A strong effort to improve Bradenton's Village of the Arts

May 3, 2013 

Bradenton has sharp designs on improving Village of the Arts as one of the keys to the city's economic and cultural growth, and thus creating greater social vibrancy to the surrounding neighborhoods and downtown.

A year ago, this development project began when a team of students and a professor from New College of Florida descended on the village to conduct in-depth research to discover its character and challenges.

This week, the ongoing community conversation continued with the "Plan to Act" presentation of proposed projects along with a brainstorming session with village residents and other stakeholders.

This important economic development and place-making effort is being led by a wide-ranging partnership that features the Downtown Development Authority, Realize Bradenton, the 14th Street West Community Redevelopment Agency, the Artists Guild of Manatee, the University of South Florida, New College and a host of other organizations.

This is an exciting time for the neighborhood given the strong support from the community to collaborate on village enhancements.

The focus is clearly on the village merchants, businesses, residents, property owners and artists in this colorful 42-acre enclave in the heart of the city.

The artists' colony is home to more than 30 art galleries, studios and restaurants peppered amid the 240 residential structures -- many painted in a kaleidoscopic of colors.

The project also incorporates the adjacent McKechnie Field and the Ninth Street and 14th Street West corridors, key elements to the city's future.

In January, the project gained steam with a neighborhood visioning workshop engaging residents and stakeholders to articulate goals, values and aspirations for the village. Then a planning and design team came up with potential projects based on that input, and the design process followed.

At this week's "Plan to Act," project leaders unveiled a broad array of dynamic recommendations in front of some 75 residents and business owners.

While some owners zeroed in on drawing more customers, that will come with the completion of attractive physical assets -- magnets for visitors, as Riverwalk is proving each and every day.

Proposals include eco-friendly rain gardens and green streets, event spaces with mobile furniture, and public transportation connectivity via bike stations and a trolley system.

The city experimented with trolleys on the Saturday the Downtown Farmers' Market relocated to the village during the Seafood Fest -- to great fanfare. Crowds filled village restaurants, proving the trolley's potential.

Gateway signage and artistic designs scattered around the village would provide great visibility and interest. Narrower streets and wider sidewalks would encourage foot traffic in the walkable neighborhood.

"Plan to Act' also proposed the revitalization of both Ninth and 14th Streets via a district overlay plan. Now a USF team will come up with a formal proposal of improvements to present to the city in a month, and then costs, funding and timetables will be devised.

This deliberative and collaborative project mirrors two highly successful forerunners. Realize Bradenton was borne out of a community visioning process. Riverwalk, too.

There's every reason to believe that the Village of the Arts will be the next one.

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