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CCRA director advises hold on MLK project


BRADENTON - A mixed-use project on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue should be put on hold, the director of the Bradenton Central Community Redevelopment Agency said on Thursday night.

Sherod Halliburton said the economic environment has changed since the project was proposed. "The timing is not right," he said.

In a handout distributed at the meeting, options for the project included cutting the size down to two stories and sharing ownership with a private investor.

"Given the economic climate, the residential component of this project is somewhat problematic," Halliburton said. "When we ran the numbers, what we saw when you look at affordable housing that will be developed for sale, We were looking at a $100,000 shortfall in regards to the value of those properties relative to what we could reasonably expect to sell them for."

There have been successful project with commercial space and market-rate housing above, he said, but affordable housing atop commercial has not been proven.

"In fairness, my responsibility to the board is to share those changes and to direct this project in a manner that's more consistent to where the market is today," he said. "My recommendation would be we put this project on hold."

The analysis Halliburton presented showed a strictly commercial project and detailed advantages and disadvantages of two stories versus three stories, the latter of which is what was originally promised.

The board asked for more time to consider the recommendation, and Halliburton agreed that more time is needed.

However, he added, "I am strongly opposed - given the economic climate - to move forward with the project as originally proposed. If the board feels that mixed-use is the way to go, my recommendation would be the timing is not right and we need to put the project on ice."

Another meeting will be held on Sept. 17 to discuss it.

No splashing at Norma Lloyd Park

The project at Norma Lloyd Park is moving forward, Halliburton said, and a ribbon-cutting is tentatively scheduled for late October.

Deals have been reached with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays on ballfield renovations and work on knocking down the dugouts has begun. In the meantime, efforts to acquire a piece of land from the state are continuing.

The ribbon-cutting will be part of an all-day event. "We want the community to have ownership," Halliburton said.

There is an effort underway to have landscaping work done by professionals to make sure the plants don't die. After that, the ribbon-cutting will take place, so long as the cost can be contained and most of the work is donated.

Phase II of the project will begin after the ribbon-cutting, Halliburton said, and he said he plans to meet with Bradenton City Clerk Carl Callahan, who was at the meeting, to discuss taking out an $800,000 loan to complete the build-out of the park.

"We currently have spent a little more than $1.6 million," he said. "We have a little over $800,000 to fulfill our financial commitments, we have a $250,000 grant that was just approved for the buildout of the bridge and the corresponding walkways, and our initial thought was we would wait a year and provide the matching dollars at that point in time, but given the momentum and given where we are on this project, if we were to borrow the $800,000, we could complete this project completely in the next fiscal year and we will be done with our financial obligations relative to Norma Lloyd Park."

The idea, he said, is to not be talking about the park two to five years from now and to get it finished.

A couple of financial institutions have expressed interest in making the loan for 15 years, and of course the city would have to sign off on it.

Next year, there's about $300,000 in the budget for the park, so it would have to be done piecemeal, Halliburton said. In that case, "We won't have this project completely built out and paid for for two, perhaps three years."

The loan would cover most of the improvements, but not the splash park.

"What we've done is we've taken those items off that are unfunded," Halliburton said. "The splash park is unfunded."

But there would be basketball courts, work on the parking area and other areas, and those amenities are being paid for with partners.

"Our dollars are only used to match other dollars," Halliburton said.

So the splash park is being taken off the table? For now, he said, because it's not funded.

"We wanted to have a realistic timeline for the park, and revenue sources to pay for those elements," he said. "At this point in time, there are no revenue sources in place to pay for the splash park. It doesn't mean that we aren't going to look for money for the splash park, but we wanted to do for the benefit of our financial tracking is if there are no dollars tied to that, we want to temporarily take those items off the plan until we find dollars for it."

But board members expressed concern about the lack of a splash park and wanted to know what other items will have to be held off.

Halliburton said the amphitheater and second park trail would be held off, too. Everything moving to the west toward Just for Girls is unfunded, though there may be grants available.

Callahan said it would be nice to have everything that's on the maps that were given out, but that may not be possible.

Finding funding is going to be more challenging, Halliburton said.

"Unfortunately for all of us, when we were planning all these items," Callahan said, "no one foresaw the downturn in the economy, and the decrease in valuations in our CRA leads to less dollars the city can contribute, because we don't have the money either. That's what has hit us."

Still, there are talks with the Rays and Pirates about other things, he said.

"Every dollar that someone's willing to give us, we want to maximize and take advantage of that," Callahan said.

Once everything is cleared that needs to take place, there may be $100,000 or a little more left over after the project is done.

Some of the elements of the project that are being left out now, like the splash park, may still come to pass, Halliburton said. "The conversation becomes what we didn't do," he said of the possible talk after the project is finished.

"The focus needs to be on what we've actually built as opposed to 'I have this picture and there's a splash park. Where's the splash park?'," he said. "Because I think that will be some of what we hear, even though we've brought a lot of elements online, if there are elements that we are promoting that we have not brought online, the conversation becomes we didn't deliver.

"We kind of have a double-edged sword that we're dealing with."

In other action, the CCRA approved engaging CPA and Associates for an audit, and Halliburton introduced two new staffers, Henry Blighten and Bob Terry.

Also, the conversion of a house into a day-care center is ongoing, and the CCRA is getting involved in the Individual Development Account program and hopes to add more families to the program.


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