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Palmetto may have found a cost-free solution to one of its downtown eyesore problems


The CBI building, at 924 5th Street West in Palmetto, is a vacant, decaying place that doesn't meet current alarm or sprinkler fire code standards. It is also ugly and metal-sided, far from the kind of building wanted in the new, attractive, pedestrian-friendly downtown that Palmetto is trying to build. In fact, the CBI building is so decrepit and unsightly that Jeff Burton, interim director of the Palmetto CRA, has gotten bids for demolishing it.

The low bid for demolition so far is $5,580.

Several CRA board members (the Palmetto CRA board and its city commission are the same people) were lamenting the fact that this building, ugly and dangerous though it might have been, was not worthy of salvage. Wasn't there anyone, they asked, who might be able to make something of it before they ordered it torn down?

Slick to the rescue!
Across the street from the CBI building, at 923 5th Street West, is another metal building. But this one has functional sprinklers and alarms, and is home to Slicks Garage, a car customizing business featured on Tampa's Tail Fins and Chrome TV show.

Slick (the name the Slicks Garage owner goes by) stood up in front of the CRA board and offered to rebuild the CBI building to modern codes and even to modify it to conform to the esthetic standards the city has been working to set for its downtown streets. Slick's cause was boosted by Olympia Performing Arts Center empresario Joel Jarvis, whose restored property at 512 10th Avenue adjoins the decrepit CBI building.

Slick pointed out that he had brought the building he is already in up to code without any problem even though it was older and more run-down than the CBI building when he got it. "And I'm buying the place (I'm in), so you know I'm not going anywhere," he said.

No purchase price was discussed. The motion to demolish -- or at least do something with -- the CBI building was tabled while Burton and other staffers figure out much it will cost to make "band aid" fixes to the CBI building so that it is no longer a safety hazard. Burton thinks he can get it done for around $10,000, but that it might run somewhat more because most of the copper electric wiring in the building has been stolen and would have to be replaced to run the legally-required fire alarm system. Slick said he'd been inside the building and that he might be able to help with that work; that it wasn't that big of a deal; and that he'd just done similar things to a similar property without -- he made sure everyone in the room heard clearly -- any government grants or aid whatsoever.

Still far from a done deal
Despite Slick's eagerness, the Mayor and her fellow CRA board mambers were hesitant to show too much enthusiasm. Last year they put out an RFP (request for proposal) for the CBI Building, and their one response was from a Dr. Alkire, who said he wanted to turn it into a medical office building but never quite came to terms with the city.

Last November, Mayor Bryant wrote a Bradenton Herald guest column in response to charges that she and the CRA board/commissioners were mishandling the building's tentative sale to Dr. Alkire.

CRA board member (and city commissioner) Tambra Varnadore expressed a legitimate concern that if this deal fell through the same way the one before it did, "for whatever reason," they wouldn't "have the same problem in six months." This is another question the comissioners put aside to answer another day.

But even without a clear, approved plan of action, everyone from Slick to the CRA board members/commissioners went away feeling more optimistic about the CBI building than they had when they entered the room.

A growing business ready and willing to expand in a generally-down economy is always good news. And for that business, the chance to acquire a nearby building at a bargain price, even if it takes a considerable amount of work to make it useful, is also good news.

Indeed, the good feeling in the room was so strong by the end of the CRA discussion about the CBI building that Mayor Bryant told the Olympic Theatre's Jarvis that she had information about a grant he might be able to get, which was a significant peace offering considering that Jarvis and the City of Palmetto have been feuding with each other for over five years, and are just now -- finally -- starting to work together instead of against each other.


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