Past Meets Present

By Hannah Wallace January 31, 2006

A liquor store from the 1970s through 1990s, the Monk Building in downtown Bradenton is being transformed into 21st-century office and commercial space, another example of the revitalization going on in this part of the city.

Built in the mid-1920s by general contractor Thomas A. Monk, the building on Ninth Street West at the corner of Ninth Avenue has housed everything from apartments on its upper level to a drugstore to, most recently, ABC Liquors. It's been vacant and a bit rundown for several years, but Tom O'Brien, principal architect at J. Thomas O'Brien, A.I.A., P.A., is working to change that.

"It's been really fun bringing an old building back to life," O'Brien says. "Old buildings just make wonderful spaces for a new office environment. There's a lot of potential in them."

O'Brien's architecture firm occupies one-third of the brick building, which boasts new storefronts and landscaping, new electric and plumbing services, and period accents like copper downspouts. "The building was structurally sound; the interior and exterior finishes had just diminished over time," he says.

In O'Brien's office, the existing concrete floor was polished like terrazzo, providing for a more permanent-and interesting-flooring solution than carpeting. The modern white-walled design studio features plenty of natural light, thanks to the skylights O'Brien restored and big windows along the perimeter. Eleven-foot, six-inch ceilings with exposed ductwork create an open feeling.

O'Brien thinks the Monk Building's location, which attracted him, will help lure future tenants. "The Ninth Avenue-Ninth Street corner is becoming important," he says. Architecture firms and other businesses have set up shop along Ninth Avenue toward 14th Street, creating what O'Brien calls the southern boundary of Bradenton's urban business district. Manatee County's new justice center will be built two blocks to the north, and a new parking garage is in the works just one block away. The Village of the Arts, McKechnie Field and the Manatee County Planning Department are also within walking distance.

"The location is ideal," says Bill Swan, owner of landscape architecture firm William W. Swan III and Associates, which has moved from 59th Street to the Monk Building. "It's close to downtown businesses and the governmental agencies that I work with a lot. And it's easy to get on to I-75" from there.

Space is available on the site's first and second floors. O'Brien will work with clients to create the finished interior look they need, but he hopes to continue the design trend he's set in his own office. "I would like to keep the high ceilings and openness," he says. "It adds so much to the space."

He believes the building is well suited for legal, accounting, contracting, engineering and other professional businesses. Because of limited on-site parking, it's not an ideal spot for retail establishments or medical offices.

Companies have the option of renting, at approximately $15 a square foot for an annual lease, or buying finished space at an average of about $175 a square foot.

In a neighborhood experiencing a rebirth, the Monk Building's mix of historic and contemporary elements seems a good fit. "People are surprised when they come in here," says O'Brien. "They think it's an old building, but the only thing that's old is the brick outside. Everything else is new."

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