BY SHELLY WEST
Situated on Old Main Street in Bradenton, the City Hall is an unassuming yet charming Spanish-style structure on sprawling four-plus acres of prime, not to mention valuable city, and riverfront real estate. Sharing the building with the Bradenton Police department, City Hall services the public in the epicenter of what is Bradenton.
That is all set to change. After much deliberation, the city council has decided to put the City Hall and the property it sits on up for sale. This includes the building and surrounding land, equaling 5.64 acres on the parent site.
The decision to sell the building and relocate the city offices and the police department was not an easy one. The impact on the surrounding neighborhoods, traffic, and infrastructure was considered heavily. The city hired an independent appraisal firm in 2022 to establish a fair market value for the building site and surrounding land. Another firm conducted a comprehensive use study and evaluation of the impact this project would have on the community. The Regional Economic Consulting Group provided the Council with a list of questions to provide to the developers, which served as a general guide for the use of the space.
The proposed massive project will change the face of the downtown core in a potentially overdue way. Some might not like change, but it’s worth a look when this type of change projects a highly positive economic impact on the immediate area and beyond, bringing potentially millions to stimulate the local economy.
On January 25, 2023, the City Hall hosted a workshop where the public was permitted to listen to the proposals from three builders for developing the City Hall property. These being early days, deciding who will purchase the property is expected to take several months. The Council desires to be methodical and explore various proposed options that would impact employment, labor income, value added to the region, and economic input.
Potential labor jobs this project would create could well exceed 1,500 jobs and around five hundred jobs in operational.
While the city emphasizes the desire to maintain transparency with the community, and to that extent, throughout this process, the Council intends to keep the voices of the community heard.
The focus of the development is to provide mixed-use space to include upscale condos for sale, multi-family rental housing, ground-floor retail, dining, and the possibility of a hotel.
In his presentation, Jim Zboril of L & L Development Group said, “We intend to curate a place that creates a buzz in the downtown area that is lifestyle-driven.”
The lifestyle that all three bidders presented was an upscale use that would service the existing community and draw visitors from neighboring communities, thus stimulating the local businesses.
With all this potential growth and change to the downtown core, losing what Bradenton is and what it should look like was of great concern to the citizens who attended the meeting and the Council. The consensus was that the project needs to maintain the core feeling of Old Main Street without losing sight of the durability and ability to be flexible and progressive.
All three bidders presented plans or ideas consistent for providing multi-family housing. Ryan Solow, President of Development with Silver Hills Development Inc. and Edwards Co., stated, “Multi-family activates a community. It brings high energy to the downtown.” The multi-family housing will be luxury or upscale, appealing to the living and working families in the core area.
The fiscal benefit is bringing density to the urban core, but how will that impact the existing infrastructure?
The Council is taking parking, emergency services, water, sewer, and traffic concerns into account as well. Once the Council has decided which vendor will win the bid, deciding on a construction plan and infrastructure studies will be part of the decision-making process.
In a separate conversation with Rob Perry, Bradenton City Administrator, he expressed the Council’s desire for the project to “Keep Bradenton the best Bradenton it can be.”
This sentiment was expressed throughout the workshop. The emphasis was not on trying to emulate the success of our neighboring cities like Sarasota, St. Petersburg, or Tampa. The Council’s goals are to keep the Old Main Street
vibe while making the core a place where people want to live, dine, shop, and explore the beautiful Riverwalk.
For those who are concerned about the library, which is two blocks away from City Hall, Perry added, “There have been questions about the status of the library. It will remain for now. There are no plans at the moment to change.” He also emphasized how he felt it was important to the area to have the library as part of the downtown community.
“Maximum success involves a community led by a visionary group of officials,” adds Perry. “The community has an incredible opportunity for economic growth, quality of life, and making downtown a special place.”
There are also many opportunities for those who seek affordable housing to live in the downtown area or close to the core. These projects are either planned or currently in various stages of being under construction. Two completed projects are The Addison at 702 6th Avenue E, and Grand Palms, at 1715 14th St. W. In the works but not completed are NINE20, located at 920 Manatee Avenue, W., The Astoria on 9th at 2111 9th Street, and Riverview 6 901 6th Avenue W.
All these projects are to fill the need for affordable housing, especially for people who want to live in the city. Many are professionals, teachers, nurses, police, fire, or even retirees. Making new attainable housing available is a smart way to build a diverse and livable community that activates the city, infusing the desired buzz.
The Council emphasized they intend to take this one step at a time. The earliest they anticipate taking that next step will be mid-year. After all, keeping Bradenton great takes some careful planning and time.