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Subsidies come into focus in Bradenton

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  • | 10:35 a.m. February 18, 2011
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A brouhaha has broken out in downtown Bradenton over potential incentives given to businesses to move into the region.

The situation involves $250,000 — puny when compared to some other possible subsidies on the Gulf Coast. Officials in Sarasota and Hillsborough counties, for instance, are angling along with Florida officials for the right to woo Maine-based Jackson Labs with an incentive package probably topping $100 million. (See Business Review, Jan. 28.)

But the controversy does bring the murky issue of government officials who have the power to choose subsidies winners and losers into focus. The debate in Bradenton stems from a decision by the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority to approve $250,000 in rent and construction subsides to lure Ezra Cafe to move downtown from west Bradenton.

Ezra Cafe has long been one of Bradenton's most popular restaurants. DDA Chairman Will Robinson, in supporting the incentives for Ezra, says the authority is charged with correcting one of downtown's gleaming weaknesses: The lack of a diverse selection of restaurants. “Ezra is the perfect restaurant for this,” Robinson tells Coffee Talk.

Ward 2 Councilwoman Marianne Barnebey isn't so sure. First off, Barnebey and at least one of the four other council members say they didn't know the DDA put together an incentive package for Ezra until an agreement was announced Feb. 3.

Barnebey, who says she thinks Ezra is a great restaurant, says the city should instead recruit restaurants not already in the community.

“Do we really want to spend $250,000 to bring one restaurant three miles east to put it in another building?” asks Barnebey. “I don't understand how that speaks to the mission of the DDA, which is to remove blight.”

Ezra Cafe owner Donna Eason couldn't be reached for comment.

The incentive package, while already approved by the DDA, could be recalled by the city council at its Feb. 23 meeting. Vice Mayor Patrick Roff, however, says the power vested in the mayor and city rules will make an overturn difficult. Still, says Roff, “we've never had a situation like this in the past.”



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