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Date of Issue: January 21, 2009

ScenicWAVES pursues expanded CRA

An advisory committee Jan. 12 reaffirmed its vote to recommend that the Bradenton Beach City Commission appoint a businessperson and resident to an expanded seven-person community redevelopment agency board.

The Bradenton Beach CRA currently stands at five members, who are the elected city commissioners.

But at the request of ScenicWaves members and local businesspeople, the commission has been looking at expanding the board, which oversees how money is spent in the CRA District.

The city established the CRA to revitalize the blighted district with Community Redevelopment Block Grant money, other grant sources and incremental tax assistance. The district is mapped as the area between Sarasota Bay, Cortez Road, the Gulf of Mexico and Fifth Street South.

When the CRA was established in 1992, the downtown district, which the CRA plan called Historic Old Town, was considered blighted. The 1957 Anna Maria Island and Cortez bridges that had fueled development in Holmes Beach had resulted in a decline in Bradenton Beach, according to the CRA master plan. The 1957 bridge in Bradenton Beach replaced the crossing at Bridge Street, which became the city pier.

“The city pier became the last inheritance of the original bridge — still jutting out 660 feet into the bay, but looking tired and shopworn from years of benign neglect,” the plan stated.

“For 35 years, from 1957 to 1992, Bradenton Beach has limped along the edge of a prosperous Island economy.”

The city had been a bustling community somewhat dependent on vice for commercial enterprise in its earliest years. With the end of Prohibition, “Bridge Street developed into stores and services on both sides of the street as every automobile entering the Island drove through the midst of the town.… From 1922 until 1957, Cortez Beach was the economic center of the Island.”

The creation of the CRA, with an infusion of cash from grants and dedicated property tax dollars, was intended to rejuvenate old town’s slump.

The goals set forth in the CRA plan called for creating a traffic pattern to bring people to Bridge Street, attracting new investment in commerce, partnering with organizations and businesses to promote historical, social and recreational programs, improve and increase public parking and secure historic district status for the community.

Last year, the city commission voted to make the ScenicWaves group an advisory committee on CRA matters.

ScenicWaves’ first recommendation was to expand the CRA board. At a city commission meeting Sept. 18, 2008, commissioners endorsed that recommendation and requested that attorney Ralf Brookes draft a resolution.

Commissioner Janie Robertson said last week that the commission was still waiting for a draft resolution.

ScenicWaves’ second recommendation was that the two new CRA members be Ed Chiles, owner of the BeachHouse Restaurant, and Connie Drescher, a resident within the CRA district and former mayor. Both Chiles and Drescher said they would accept the appointments.

Chiles said the idea behind expanding the CRA to include a district businessperson and a district resident is “as old as the Boston Tea Party.”

The CRA, he said, “is a fabulous program.”

In other business last week, ScenicWAVES:

  • Discussed improving the gateway to the city at Gulf Drive and Cortez Road. The committee planned to devote time at its several future meetings to improving the gateway, as well as promoting other public art projects.
  • Discussed updating and refining the city’s Web site.
  • Began to review with a consultant, James Taylor of the IBI Group, material for an update of the Bradenton Beach Scenic Highway Corridor Management Plan.

The city hired the IBI Group, using a National Scenic Byways grant, to help with the update, which is required for officially designated corridor management entities.

In recent weeks, Taylor has conducted a number of surveys in the city, especially along Gulf Drive. In the coming weeks, he plans to continue his review, including taking a bicycle ride to look for breaks or problems in the bike path.

On Jan. 30, Taylor will join city officials and citizens in a four-hour charrette on the scenic highway. The program is tentatively scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. at city hall.

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