Manatee County officials are discussing plans to build four new parking garages throughout the area, including the controversial beach garage on Anna Maria Island.
The Board of County Commissioners took a first look at the proposed parking facilities during a recent presentation by county staff. There are plans to build garages in downtown Bradenton, the Bradenton Area Convention Center, Premier Sports Campus and Manatee Public Beach.
Building the four garages will be a costly endeavor, said Tom Yarger, the county’s construction services manager. All told, the projects could cost a combined $172 million, according to early estimates.
Commissioners agreed to allow staff to continue along in the design phase for each garage, but the board did not make official decisions on costs or when each garage will be built.
Yarger said his team presented the ideas to get feedback from board members, who had few questions about most of the proposed structures. But an extended debate began after he presented plans for the beach garage.
Earlier this year, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that allows Manatee County to build a parking garage in Holmes Beach without requiring a permit from the city. The loophole is the latest escalation in a feud over beach parking that dates back to 2020.
Battle continues over Anna Maria Island garage
With the bill signed into law, county staff are planning a 900-space garage on the Manatee Public Beach, 4000 State Road 64, parking lot. The conceptual design would provide a little over twice as many parking spaces as there are now.
The garage could cost between $30 and $35 million, Yarger said, noting that the goal is to build a “gateway” to the beach area.
“We don’t know what the garage is going to look like at this point. It’s very schematic,” Yarger said.
The conceptual plan shows a roundabout on the north end of the property, along with a drop-off lane between the beach and the garage.
But the plan to construct a parking garage on Anna Maria Island met opposition from Holmes Beach officials, island residents and one board member.
“Everybody should be allowed access to the beach, but do we have to accommodate everybody’s cars? The size of the county is bursting,” said Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth. “We’re going to have to start tearing down homes and building parking lots if we take this as having to provide for everybody.”
Commissioner George Kruse accused his colleagues of pushing the garage project to satisfy a “narrative” around access to beach parking, and said the money is better spent on other much-needed road projects like the Fort Hamer Bridge and 44th Avenue east-west extension.
He described the additional parking spaces as “pointless,” arguing that it’s not possible for the county to provide access for all residents.
“You are not going to find space on that island to hold enough people who want to go to the beach on the Fourth of July,” Kruse said. “You’re just physically not.”
Residents and business owners also criticized the board for moving the proposed garage along. Speaking during public comment, they predicted that the additional parking would bring additional traffic congestion and other logistical problems.
“Our island has been a getaway for over a century and offers a unique, low-key, low-scale beach experience,” said Alice Torres Sutton, owner of The Bamboo Apartments just south of the county’s beach parking lot. “The parking garage will change this. We will become just another overcrowded beach spot.”
However, most commissioners said they believe a garage is the best way for Manatee officials to provide additional parking.
“We didn’t start this. It doesn’t come on us,” said Commissioner James Satcher, referring to Holmes Beach’s removal of street parking in 2020. “We’re trying to give people access and do the best with what we own.”
Other commissioners argued that the county’s current number of parking spaces is inadequate and that the garage would make the beach easier to visit.
“There’s definitely a need there. It’s not spotty, it’s all the time,” said Commissioner Ray Turner, who recalled being unable to find a parking spot during a recent visit.
“It would never be 100% of Manatee County that goes to the beach, but we want to be able to provide the opportunity for those who want to go the beach,” added Commissioner Jason Bearden.
Kruse is the only commissioner who disagreed with the county’s plan to build a garage on Anna Maria Island.
Mixed-use garage in downtown Bradenton
In 2022, commissioners learned that Manatee County’s seven-story parking garage is showing “signs of deterioration.” The garage is frequented by employees and visitors who use the Administration Building, 1112 Manatee Ave. W. in downtown Bradenton.
Those structural issues forced the county to budget $33 million in the capital improvement plan, but Yarger said the full cost of a 12-story replacement would cost between $85 and $100 million.
County staff proposed moving forward with a mixed-use garage that has retail space on the ground floor, two levels of office space above the parking levels and outdoor green space on the roof.
“We could shuffle the deck 100 ways here. There’s no shortage of need,” Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge, noting that the judicial center, the Supervisor of Elections and the City of Bradenton could be potential users of the office space.
More parking at Premier Sports Campus
A 600-space parking garage is slated for the Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch to help accommodate large crowds during sporting events and other community activities.
While Yarger showed drawings that depict the garage as a connection to the East County Library, commissioners said they believe the parking facility should be more centralized.
“We’re not going to build more than one garage at Premier, so it needs to be accessible to everything,” Van Ostenbridge said.
County staff assured the board that the $22 million garage could be relocated. Updated plans will come back for board approval at a later date.
New garage for Bradenton Area Convention Center
A three-story parking garage with 300 spaces is planned at the Bradenton Area Convention Center. County staff said the garage could be used to support the additional visitors that will take advantage of the Palmetto Marriott hotel and the remodeled convention center.
Board members recently approved a $48 million renovation of the convention center that will update the 1980s building with a modern look, new flooring and furniture to mimic the style of the Marriott.
Yarger noted that because the proposed garage is positioned along the U.S. 41, it will also hide the back of the convention center from drivers along the roadway.