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Date of Issue: May 26, 2005

Gulf Drive improvements could begin this fall

There's nothing like a little optimism to jump-start an improvement project along Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach that will add needed sidewalks, beach access areas and even pavilions along the scenic corridor.

Mitch McKnight of Wilson Miller Inc., the city's engineering firm, presented plans for Gulf Drive improvements at a May 18 joint meeting of the city commission and scenic highway committee, and McKnight believes the project could start as early as this fall.

"These are just ideas from the scenic highway of what they'd like to see," he told commissioners, but with a little push by the commission and the right Florida Department of Transportation review, "we could begin the project this fall."

Among the improvements will be new sidewalks on both sides of Gulf Drive from Cortez Road to Fifth Street South, curbing at the Bridge Street roundabout to slow traffic, some additional trolley stops, lighted crosswalks, landscaping and several observation pavilions along the west side. The sidewalks will tie in with Manatee County's planned multi-use path through Coquina Beach, said McKnight.

Landscaping at the Gulf Drive-Bridge Street intersection will create a "nice visual" as people enter and leave Bridge Street, he said.

Several observation decks are in the design. The decks would face the Gulf of Mexico, be handicap accessible, and contain rest rooms and outdoor showers for beachgoers.

But the proposed sidewalks present a problem for Banana Cabana owner Mike Rappaport.

The proposed sidewalk on the east side of Gulf Drive would run directly through parking in front of his restaurant. "You're taking away 10 parking spots from us. Where are we going to get parking?" he asked Mayor John Chappie.

The city had given him permission for the parking spaces to meet his site plan and if the city takes those spaces away, the restaurant does not meet the parking requirement, he said.

CME member Judy Giovanelli suggested the plan leave parking in front of Banana Cabana as it is now and simply move the sidewalk to the edge of the building.

Great idea, said Chappie. "We'll need to work that out," he said with optimism.

Vice Mayor Bill Shearon, however, sounded a warning that the Florida Department of Transportation "has a problem" with vehicles backing out onto a state road.

In fact, added McKnight, the DOT has to review and approve all the proposed improvements before any bid process begins.

"We will need DOT concurrence" for parking on a DOT right of way, he said. "Everything hinges on the DOT. The DOT wants to move traffic, not people."

McKnight's next step will be to package the proposal to the DOT for approval, suggestions and comments.

Funds for the project are available through the city's community redevelopment agency, Chappie said, although McKnight offered no estimate of the cost of construction, if the city commission approves all the plans.

"This is a great project for the city," Chappie said. "The entire area is 'high pedestrian' and we're trying to make it 'softer.'"