BRADENTON -- With Marianne Barnebey having vacated her position as Councilwoman next year in order to run for city mayor against incumbent Wayne Poston, three candidates are now gunning for the position of Ward 2's council seat. Binnie Williams, Gene Brown and George Mendez recently sat down at a debate to discuss the problems that the city faces. The main topic discussed at the debate was how to create economic growth in downtown Bradenton, with one of the issues being how to attract more people to the area.
Mrs. Williams has expressed skepticism that the new Riverwalk area is going to fix the city's long-standing problem of attracting businesses to the downtown area, saying that
more needs to be done: "We need to rethink how we rent, and what we rent, and at what price we rent, and to start renting to different kinds of people for different purposes." As an example, she cited cooperation businesses.
On the subject of selling major public riverfront properties to businesses, all candidates were mostly on the same page. Williams, who has noted that all three mayoral candidates are in favor of selling City Hall to private interests and thus seems inevitable, said that acquiring other riverfront land ought to be thought of for people to utilize. She also brought up the possibility of selling the riverfront's Central Library, and stated that a referendum should at least take place before such a deal happens, because she thinks citizens "are not interested in that - they think they have the right to have beautiful property too, even if they're not wealthy and live on the river."
In the debate, none of the candidates provided relevant specifics on how to bring more economic development to the downtown area, other than selling City Hall and the Central Library to private enterprises, which Mr. Mendez enthusiastically supported, saying he is "100%" behind such a move. Mr. Brown remarked that he would be in favor of selling the hall "if a developer gives the right amount of money" and such a move does not cost citizens. He said that selling the property could help the city "become a Central Park with downtown Main Street, and Riverwalk ... if we don't connect those two, we're going to have some issues." Mrs. Williams said she supported the idea so long as it has the backing of the public.
For his part, Mr. Mendez said that he would work with the Economic Development Council to bring more business downtown.
Mr. Brown said that one issue that needs to be improved upon is "getting citizens to understand what's happening in our city." He heavily emphasized the need to make both residents and non-residents of the city aware of events taking place on the riverfront, as well as making downtown parking easier as a way of keeping visitors coming back.
Mr. Mendez stated that some of the city's biggest issues have to do with the transportation and roadway system, saying that it was poorly planned by its original developers, and has not held up well as the city has grown, and that as a member of the Transportation Committee, he is familiar with the city's transportation issues and will work to resolve them. He suggested that one way to reduce traffic is to "get more people on public transit."
|Binnie N. Williams|
Mrs. Williams said that the city needs to enlarge its definition of who it is and what it needs. She cited her experience as a small businessperson as the head of a local video production company in Bradenton for 20 years and as a member of the Chamber of Commerce. She said that many non-business people have concerns other than "how much something will earn," and the need for having a system where "something has to be given for what's taken away" when developers purchase more public land from the riverfront.
Mendez has brought up his heavy voluntary public involvement in the city, such as his position as Planning Commissioner of Manatee County, his membership of the Chamber of Commerce's Downtown Redevelopment Committee, and working for Realize Bradenton as proof that he wants to improve conditions for its citizens and that he understands the city's needs.
Mr. Brown has cited his business background as the Chief Operating Officer of Brown and Sons Funeral Home, as well as his public service record, which includes his former position as Chairman of the Bradenton Police Department's Pension Board, working with the Boys and Girls Club, and being President of the Jessie P. Miller Elementary PTO, to argue that he is ready to serve on the council.
Click here to watch entire debate.
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