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Business Observer Monday, Apr. 25, 2022 5 months ago

Bradenton, Manatee officials take first steps to sell waterfront city hall and public library

City and county leaders see the two waterfront properties as assets to produce revenue.
by: Louis Llovio Commercial Real Estate Editor

After years of both back room and public discussions, Bradenton’s City Council is beginning to put a plan in place that could turn idle chatter into action. The plan is the first step in a process that could lead to the multimillion-dollar sale of Bradenton’s waterfront city hall building.

The sale, when and if it comes to fruition, is part of a two-track plan to reshape a .02 mile stretch of land on the Manatee River between 10th Street West and 15th Street West and transform it into a downtown destination equal to others in the region.

This stretch of land houses four buildings that overlook the river, Riverwalk and million-dollar boats docked in the marina. Of the four buildings, one is a hotel and one is condominium complex. The other two are city hall and the downtown branch of the Manatee County Public Library System.

Manatee County, not the city, own the library. And the Manatee County Commission, like Bradenton City Council, is considering selling its property — though it is further behind in the process. Some county commissioners are considering rezoning the property to increase its best and highest uses before putting it on the market.

That two government-owned buildings sit on what many consider prime real estate is what proponents of selling the two properties see as a waste of taxpayer money and a lost opportunity to capitalize on the top-shelf locations. They believe that if sold to developers, the properties could generate revenue and help fill municipal coffers.

They see the site as the potential home of a luxury hotel or residential multifamily development. A seed for redevelopment has already been planted in the area. Next to city hall is a $22 million SpringHill Suites hotel that was built about four years ago with an Oak & Stone restaurant on the street level, plus a popular rooftop bar. Across from city hall is the restaurant Pier 22 and Twin Dolphin Marina. And the Riverwalk has been expanded in recent years. 


Next steps

Selling city hall is not a new discussion by any means. But city leaders believe by beginning the process they can explore their options and maximize the potential opportunities that may come from putting the 3.9-acre city hall property on the market.

“We can’t look back 20-some years, we’re here. What we’ve got to do is, we’ve got to start a process,” says Bradenton Mayor Gene Brown. “And, what everybody that I know of, at some point, says is, we shouldn’t be here (on the property). So how do we then start the process to do that? Well, this is the process. We’re not selling city hall. We’re starting the process to figure out what we need to do to get to that next level.”

Council members will consider the first step of the process at its April 27 meeting.

The proposed plan of attack was laid out by City Administrator Rob Perry at April 21 workshop held in the offending building.

What Perry’s plan calls for is to market the property nationally and to open up the bidding for 60 days. Among the stipulations for bidders is the minimum bid is $10.46 million — it’s recently appraised value — and that whoever submits a bid also include its plans for the property.

This approach, he says, will allow council members to choose from several options in order to make sure whatever comes next fits within the vision it has for the city. Perry is also asking council members to approve funds for an economic impact study to give the city an idea what the benefits — or pitfalls — of selling are.

To save some money, Perry says the city will forgo using a commercial real estate broker to sell the property. He believes by using online platforms, the city will be able to reach a national or international pool of interested buyers inexpensively.   

“And just so that you know, I’ve received one or two calls from commercial real estate brokers that would love to represent us,” Perry told council members. “I don’t know where you’re all at. I think that’s premature, probably unnecessary at this point.”  

Perry’s proposal can be altered by council members.

Several members at the April 21 workshop expressed an interest in extending the bid deadline to 90 days, rather than 60, in order to generate more bids. And any point in the process — even after bids have come in — the process could be stopped.

For now, though, council members at the workshop seem ready to take the first tentative step. But, the majority insists, that the public needs to be brought into the conversation at some point.

“I’d like to see some public meetings. Everybody has an opinion,” says Bill Sanders, who represents Ward 4. “And let’s let the public tell us what they expect with our taxpayer money."

That will happen when the process is a little farther down the road, Perry says. Left unsaid is that most issues brought before city council allow for public comment before members vote.  

As the city takes its first steps toward selling, there is one issue that needs to be resolved: Where the city’s administrative offices will move if the building is sold and how much it will cost to replace? The police department, which shares the building, has to look for a new home as well.

Perry says there are options that could be considered, including property owned by the Bradenton CRA as well as several other potential sites. The city also has an option to negotiate a property swap or leaseback.


Done before

What Bradenton and Manatee officials are considering has precedent in the area. 

Sarasota County puts its administration building up for sale last year because maintenance costs had grown too high.

Sarasota County commissioners opened the bidding to developers and received six offers — each for over $20 million, in August. After some back and forth in commission chambers, county staff negotiated with bidders, narrowing the number of bids down to one. At that point, commissioners, who still had the right to back out if the deal didn’t meet its criteria, asked for specific concessions that were granted.

The $25 million sale to east Manatee County-based Benderson Development was approved Nov. 15. The county acquired the building and two adjacent properties, and the developer allowed Sarasota County to rent the property back for $1 million per year while it builds a new administration building.

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