The answer is simple.
Bradenton leaders met Thursday at a Tiger Bay Club luncheon titled The Mystery of Bradenton Downtown Development.
Attendees applauded the citys growth and then asked, Whats next?
I say lets continue making downtown Bradenton a destination.
Not just for Manatee County residents.
Or only for our neighbors in Sarasota.
Im talking an attraction for people from Tampa, St. Petersburg and locations far beyond the Bay area.
Old Main Street has spearheaded the movement with a winning influx of diverse bars, restaurants and boutique shops.
Tarpon Pointe Grill & Tiki Bar has been another boon to the east along the Manatee River.
More places are set to open in the coming months, and downtown foot traffic has already increased dramatically.
I live within view of where the river passes under the Green Bridge and spend more time on Old Main than some of the merchants.
And this is just the beginning.
Wait until the Bradenton Riverwalk at Rossi Park becomes a reality with its enhanced amphitheater in October 2012.
And the Manatee Performing Arts Center reaches completion. (Calling all potential donors!)
On any given night a visitor could choose between, say, a big Broadway musical and a first-rate blues or jazz concert.
And then take the short walk along the Manatee River to their room at the Courtyard Marriott.
Or the couple could stroll Old Main after the show for a tasty bite and beverage.
The coming restoration of the Pink Palace, the once beautiful 1920s-era building that a developer plans to convert into a Hampton Inn & Suites, greatly helps make such a scenario a possibility.
Bars, restaurants, live entertainment and quality places to stay -- The Londoner Bed & Breakfast is another fine downtown sleeping option -- all within walking distance.
Thats what makes a destination.
But with growth comes responsibilities.
And the establishments I frequent on Old Main Street seem to understand the importance of keeping out underage drinkers.
Even my 30-year-old friends are asked for identification at the door.
Thats a good thing.
Police officers never seem too far away.
More would be even better.
Downtown Bradenton is on the verge of a boom.
Lets not be afraid of welcoming more businesses that serve alcohol.
That said, lets not screw it up.
Nobody wants Old Main Street to resemble the main drag in Ybor City.
But thats not going to happen.
There are no plans for the type of nightclubs that are frequented by rowdy revelers.
And there shouldnt be.
Downtown Bradenton will become a destination by earning a reputation as a fun, friendly, affordable entertainment district.
These are exciting times for the city.
And Im happy to be living in the heart of it.
Wade Tatangelo, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7057. Visit heraldbuzzworthy.blogspot.com.