Manatee Players to buy 2.6 Acres on 7th St. W.

BRADENTON — Considered an opportunity to remove a long-time blemish on redevelopment efforts on the downtown waterfront, the Bradenton City Council voted Wednesday to loan $2.7 million to the Manatee Players theater to buy 2.6 acres for a parking lot.

The property at 301 Seventh St. W. is the site of the old, dilapidated Carver Apartments.

City Clerk Carl Callahan said the city has long considered how to get more parking into the area as Riverwalk and the new Manatee Players facility continue to grow in popularity.  The city loaned Manatee Players almost $3 million about a decade ago as they made plans to build the theater at 502 Third Ave. W.   The parking lot to the east of the theater belongs to the Players but is used by many visiting the Riverwalk.

Callahan said the loan would ensure the adjacent parking lot would revert to the city, while the new parking lot would be set aside for the Manatee Players and Kiwanis Club.

Players parking and development Chairman Jack Hawkins said the original loan has been paid back in full, and the Players want to continue partnering with the city to improve the area.

“This is a great opportunity for the Players and the city,” said Hawkins. “The vision of the Players has become a reality in continuing the synergy at that end of the downtown core, but the vision also is to continue to grow the uses of that facility. We will develop that property and it will be a beautiful parking lot that will look more like a park when it’s done.”

Callahan said the city has looked at other areas around the CSX Railroad lines for additional parking and nothing has been as clearly viable as the Carver Apartments property.

“This loan is essentially an investment to get some things done the city has wanted to do, and the taxpayers can know they will get paid back for some much-needed improvements,” said Callahan. “The loan will allow them to go ahead with the purchase, demolition of the apartments and construction.”

Callahan acknowledged the city isn’t in the banking business, but it’s an opportunity to provide more parking in the area and to remove a building that has remained a blemish for too long — at no cost to taxpayers by the time the loan is repaid.

Callahan said the Players will open the new lot to the public for major events like the Bradenton Blues Festival and the Bradenton Area River Regatta.

The terms of the loan is for the Players to pay 2 percent interest for the first three years of the loan.

“What’s important now is that they are running out of time to commit to buying the property,” said Callahan. “The city sees that property as a very critical piece in the long haul of economic development, but even a large parking lot can be overcome and pricing can be worked out in the event there would be other redevelopment opportunities on that site.”

The apartment building was built in 1960 and was once considered an upscale complex, but by the 1990s it fell into disrepair and has long been vacant. TCTL Properties purchased the 24-unit complex out of foreclosure for $1.5 million in 2011, promising extensive improvements that never fully came to fruition. Prior to TCTL, Enterprise Associates of Florida purchased the property from Nashville developer Tom Carver for $4 million with plans to raze the building and construct a 21-story condominium and grocery store. That project fell through in the Great Recession.

Hawkins said part of the loan agreement is to keep future redevelopment opportunities for the site open, “as long as our parking remains intact in that area.”

With Ward 3 Councilman Patrick Roff in Tallahassee on Florida League of Cities business, the council voted 3-1 to direct Callahan to move forward with the loan agreement. The dissenting vote came from Ward 5 Councilman Bemis Smith.

Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter.