Photo credit: Realize Bradenton
BY SHARON HILLSTROM
I received an email recently alerting me that the Bradenton Blues Festival scheduled for Dec. 1 is already one-third sold out. Last year, the nationally recognized, world-class blues experience sold out 12 days in advance and drew 3,000 attendees from 33 states, five foreign countries, and 229 Florida zip codes.
The Blues Festival, produced by the nonprofit Realize Bradenton, has certainly put Bradenton on the map among blues fans, and it’s one of the largest annual events attracting visitors to downtown.
But there’s much more coming to downtown Bradenton as redevelopment projects, restaurants and shops are popping up on each block. This activity – in the tens of millions of dollars – is important to the local economy, and not just for the jobs generated.
These projects contribute to making downtown a place people want to be. They attract young talent and entrepreneurs looking for an active and vibrant lifestyle. They demonstrate the viability of Manatee County as a place for private investment and show companies looking at our community for relocation that local governments are serious about investing in the future.
As important, these tangible signs of progress prove that investor confidence in downtown Bradenton is not just talk; it’s real. Here are a few examples of what’s coming in downtown Bradenton.
Across Old Main from the hotel, the city’s new $12.5-million parking garage will be open early next year with 500 parking spaces, new offices for the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, public art, and street-level retail space.
On the downtown riverfront on Barcarrota Boulevard, the $4.5-million Twin Dolphin Marina expansion and renovation will accommodate larger yachts.
Adjacent to the marina, the South Florida Museum is in the throes of a $12-million expansion and renovation project to create a brand-new look and a children’s exploration and education exhibit, among other improvements.
New eateries and shops are opening on Old Main Street, 13th Street, and in the Village of the Arts, as local entrepreneurs demonstrate confidence in the downtown market.
Connecting all this activity from the river south to the Village of the Arts will be an ambitious, $6-million streetscaping project designed to update aesthetics, improve walkability and enhance opportunities for outdoor dining.
To the east from the downtown core, the former Bradenton Herald property at U.S. 301 and Manatee Avenue West is slated for luxury apartments. Apartments at different price points are under construction and planned in the area of Manatee Avenue East and 9th Street East. A planned eastward extension of the popular Riverwalk will help to connect the area to downtown.
If you’re concerned that all this activity will make downtown Bradenton unrecognizable and somehow detract from its charm, be assured that the redevelopment is being planned in a very intentional way to maintain the authentic feel of our downtown.
When Realize Bradenton surveyed people of all ages about what they like about downtown and what they’d like to see, there was surprising agreement. Whether young or young-at-heart, people surveyed like the historic feel, authenticity, and quaintness. They also want it to be more vibrant, walkable and active.
Having lived in Bradenton for over 25 years, I’m excited about what’s happening downtown. It’s good for residents, good for visitors, and good for our economy. Best of all, it’s real.
And just a reminder: don’t wait to grab your tickets to the Bradenton Blues Festival. They’re going fast (www.bradentonbluesfestival.org).