The River Grande Hotel Revitalization – A Textbook Example Of Effective Public-Private Partnerships

During the boom of the 1920s, the Manatee River Hotel was constructed along the banks of the Manatee River and its historic splendor included serving as a Prohibition-era playground for the rich and famous. Unfortunately, over the past decade, the building has fallen into disrepair and one of the most historic buildings in Manatee County faced a dire prospect of having to be demolished, given its age and deteriorating condition.

Fortunately, The Widewaters Group, Inc. acquired the property and soon thereafter began strategizing with government partners to make the redevelopment of the site a reality. Widewaters planned a $15 Million Dollar renovation project which included redeveloping the site into a modern hotel, with the amenities that twenty-first century guests expect. Given the scope of the redevelopment and current market conditions, public-private partnerships with federal, state and local governments were critical to the success of the redevelopment project.

The federal government’s historic preservation tax credit program and the state government’s Brownfield program first allowed certain tax credits to be granted given the historic preservation and the environmental remediation that would occur on the property.

A major step was the successful negotiation and approval of a development agreement with the Bradenton Community Redevelopment Agency, which allowed certain property tax abatements, cash contributions and public street improvements along the frontage of the property. The development agreement was unanimously ratified by the Bradenton City Council. The Council also approved certain off-site parking rights allowing patrons of the hotel to park in existing public spaces nearby.

Finally, Manatee County, through its economic development incentive grant program approved cash contributions along with parking rights to a county-owned lot near the property.

From the federal government level on to the local government level, the project’s success was tied to obtaining these public-private partnerships. “Without the support of the Bradenton community, specifically the Bradenton CRA, City Council and the Manatee Board of County Commission, the redevelopment of the Manatee River hotel would not have occurred. It took a collaborative effort from all levels of government to bring this historic redevelopment to reality” said Brian Long, Director of Development for Widewaters.

All of the incentives were tied to employment and historic preservation construction standards, which the project hopes to meet when it completes the project in late 2013. Blalock Walters is extremely proud to have represented Widewaters in both acquiring the hotel property and negotiating several of these public-private partnership agreements. Once the redevelopment project is completed and the hotel is open for business, one of Bradenton’s most historic buildings will be restored, adding a new hotel with major employment and economic benefits to downtown Bradenton, and Manatee County will be a reality that we all can be proud of.