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Date of Issue: May 28, 2008

Advisory board pitched for commercial district

Bradenton Beach is reviewing the structure of the community redevelopment agency created to guide improvements in the city’s central district.

The city, at the advice of several businesspeople attending a panel discussion on the CRA May 19, will consider appointing a citizens advisory committee.

The city may also consider restructuring the CRA, currently governed by the city commission, to include businesspeople and residents as well.

The concepts were explored at Bradenton Beach City Hall last week during a meeting called to review the purpose of the CRA, progress made since the creation of the CRA in 1992 and the future of the program.

At times during the hour-long meeting comments seemed contentious, specifically inquiries from several business owners about how CRA money has been spent and how it will be invested in the future.

But the business people — David Teitelbaum, Ed Chiles and Barbara Rodocker — emphasized at meeting’s end their appreciation for the discussion and their eagerness to work together to promote economic improvements.

“Thanks for having the meeting,” said Chiles, owner of the BeachHouse Restaurant in Bradenton Beach. “This has been very, very helpful.”

The Bradenton Beach CRA was created in 1992 to improve what was deemed a “blighted” area between Cortez Road and Fifth Street South.

The now 16-year-old community redevelopment plan outlines the goals of the CRA and the city commission acts as the governing body for the district. Funding for improvements has come from two primary sources — Community Development Block Grants and ad valorem taxes generated within the district. With the establishment of the CRA in 1992, taxes over the amount generated in that year in the district were directed back to the CRA for improvements in the area. Property owners within the district don’t pay higher taxes than property owners outside the district, but some tax dollars are returned to the area.

“The tax base in a CRA is frozen in time and anything over and above what was generated on that frozen-in-time date is directed to the CRA,” explained Cheri Coryea, neighborhood services director for the county. Coryea oversees the county’s CRA program and was on last week’s meeting Beach panel.

Vice Mayor John Chappie, who joined Coryea on the panel, said the most recent fiscal CRA funding was $400,000, on the decline from the previous year’s $650,000, which was a high mark.

“We weren’t getting much money … until the boom,” Chappie said. “But we have some funds in the CRA account.”

Chappie said declines in CRA funding could be expected with efforts to reign in property tax increases and legislative reform on property valuation.

Coryea said the county has built in a projected decrease in its CRA funding every year for the next five years.

The bulk of the Bradenton Beach CRA funding this year and going forward has been committed to paying off a five-year loan for cost to rebuild Historic Bridge Street Pier.

“We have issues about how the money gets spent and where,” Teitelbaum said. Specifically, he wanted to know whether future CRA money must be spent to pay off the pier loan or whether the loan could be restructured and then CRA money could go for other projects.

He and the other business people at the meeting suggested that more CRA money should be invested in increasing the number of parking spaces in the district.

“We have a terrible parking problem here,” said Teitelbaum, who serves on the Manatee County Tourist Development Council and owns Teitelbaum Development. “And we’re congested to the point where we can’t grow our businesses.…We’re being choked with our success.”

“If we needed to add more parking … we could go back to the well,” Teitelbaum said.

As the discussion focused on parking improvements, Chiles asked whether city officials could revisit a proposal for a parking garage in the CRA district by amending the city’s comprehensive plan.

 Rodocker, of the Bridgewalk Resort and Sun House restaurant, also encouraged reconsideration of a “parking structure” because “the times have changed, our whole city has changed.”

Teitelbaum, Chiles and Rodocker added that they like the concept of a CRA board or committee that involves residents and business owners.

“Something to build on the good work,” Chiles said, “but reforming the board.… It should be with everybody involved.”

Chappie showed interest in such an approach. “It was a decision that the city commission would be the CRA agency, but maybe for the second half we could have something different,” he said. “We really need to look at where we need to go.… We’re at a crossroads.”

“Now is the time to look at restructuring the way we are,” he continued.

Other locations in the state use a model similar to Bradenton Beach’s, but in Bradenton the nonprofit Downtown Development Authority acts as the city’s CRA. In unincorporated Manatee County, a citizens committee advises the governing county commission for a South County CRA.

“I can see pluses and minuses for each,” Coryea said of the various CRA models.

Mayor Michael Pierce suggested another meeting on the CRA and city projects-program manager Lisa Marie Phillips said she would prepare a request for the city commission to review the creation of a CRA citizens advisory group.


In the beginning...

A community redevelopment plan from 1992 charts the history of Bradenton Beach and targets goals for improving the city’s central commercial district.

The plan called for redirecting certain property tax dollars back to the Community Redevelopment Agency for improvements in a district generally bounded by the water on the east and west, Cortez Road on the north and Fifth Street South on the south.

The plan identified this area as “the earliest settled land on Anna Maria Island,” as “blighted” and in the “greatest need for renewal.”

The creation of the CRA provided the mechanism for obtaining Community Development Block Grant funds and returning tax dollars to the district for improvements, including remodeling and then the reconstruction of the storm-damaged Bridge Street Pier, the purchase of several parking lots and redevelopment on Bridge Street.