BRADENTON -- Local leaders, including Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski, spoke during a Manatee Tiger Bay Club luncheon Thursday to address community concerns stemming from the Bradenton Riverwalk.
Also speaking before the room of professionals was Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Dave Gustafson and business and civic leader Bernie Croghan, both of whom described how the Riverwalk has helped draw visitors to the area.
"The Riverwalk park is a miracle worker," Croghan said during a meeting of the Manatee Tiger Bay Club.
Croghan referred to the park as "novel" and an "inspiration," crediting it with drawing the BarCamps conference to Bradenton in May. BarCamps is a four-day event that will draw hundreds of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to the city.
The conference will feature events on the Riverwalk in addition to the Manatee Players theater scheduled to be open at the end of the month.
Gustafson said the Riverwalk is a key part of a planned Manatee-Sarasota bid for the 2017 World Rowing Championships.
"Any body of water bigger than a bathtub will be utilized," Gustafson said.
If picked to host the 17-day event, it is expected to have a $17 million impact on Bradenton.
Many who spoke agreed the Riverwalk has had a positive effect on drawing visitors.
"It pleases people who live here, so it encourages people to come here," Croghan said.
In addition to the many events the Riverwalk has drawn, the luncheon also gave business leaders an opportunity to express concerns that have emerged since the Riverwalk opened in October.
Radzilowski said downtown Bradenton, including the Riverwalk, statistically has the lowest levels of crime in the city.
"We have partnered with the skateboard community from day one," said Radzilowski.
The police chief credits this as well as presence of police officers around the clock for the low number of incidents.
"The biggest problem we are having is parents dropping off their kids there and leaving," Radzilowski said. "We have become a baby-sitting service for 200 to 300 kids."
After the luncheon the chief addressed recent concerns about vendors in the park.
"We are waiting like everyone else to see what happens with the vending rules and regulations," he said.
According to Radzilowski the police department is awaiting direction from the city council.
"Our perspective is the more people who come down, the better," he said.
In the park Thursday after the luncheon, was Bradenton resident Kathleen Palino.
Palino, 79, had never been to the Riverwalk but decided it was the place to bring her brother and sister-in-law, Pete and Sandra Moore, who were only in town for the day.
"It's been a wonderful experience," Sandra Moore said. "It has a little bit of everything."The snowbirds visiting from Syracuse, N.Y., enjoy bird-watching and people-watching.
"If local people don't come down and enjoy this, it's a shame," Moore said.
Looking forward, Tiger Bay Club members questioned how the Riverwalk and other redevelopment projects would be connected as part of a future vision for the city.
One member, Johnette Ishan, executive director of Realize Bradenton, questioned what would be done about transportation.
"A need for a trolley system has been identified," Gustafson said. "We will be doing a trial run of the trolley the weekend of the Seafood fest."
Planned this year for April 5-7, the Hernando de Soto Historical Society's annual seafood festival draws about 40,000 people to downtown.