Historic Manatee County Courthouse grounds makeover under way

skennedy@bradenton.comJuly 16, 2013 

BRADENTON -- Bradenton city officials said they were excited to see construction begin Monday on the historic Manatee County Courthouse grounds, predicting it would provide a cool spot for concerts, cultural events and even marriage ceremonies.

"It just takes downtown to another amazing level," said Laura McKeithen, who organizes 80 events a year through the nonprofit corporation called Realize Bradenton, which is charged with drawing people downtown to enjoy arts, culture, history, heritage and sports.

"I'm really excited there's going to be a fabulous bandshell, the landcaping will be beautiful and it will enhance the downtown gateway to Bradenton," she said.

The $698,964 renovation will further enhance Old Main Street and provide a new venue for fun events, she said.

"I can see it if somebody wants to get married in the gazebo," said McKeithen, referring to a new structure that could also function as a band shell. It will grace the courthouse grounds when work is completed in 60 to 90 days.

"That's a great space to grow into," she said of the area to be transformed around the 1913 courthouse.The courthouse, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, will get new landscaping and other renovations to help integrate it with other high-profile projects already underway or finished in Bradenton, she said.

She cited the $15 million renovation of the former Manatee River Hotel, slated to open in December, and the Bradenton Riverwalk, a $6.2 million linear park that opened last year.

The courthouse project calls for war memorials on the grounds to be moved to the east side sandwiched between the old building and its newer sibling, the Manatee

County Judicial Center.

A Vietnam War memorial will be moved to Manatee Veterans Monument Park along Bradenton's Riverwalk. At the courthouse, a new police memorial, new veterans monument and distinguished citizen footprints set in concrete will be installed along the eastern boundary.

The courthouse lawn will be replanted with native species, which require less water and care than non-natives, Manatee County Clerk and Comptroller R.B. "Chips" Shore said.

"I think it's just another indication the courthouse is an important component to the downtown," said Dave Gustafson, executive director of Bradenton's Downtown Development Authority.

Referring to the multimillion-dollar exterior renovation of the courthouse, he said: "The building is beautiful, and now the grounds are going to match it."

Such an improvement "absolutely" makes a difference when Gustafson takes business owners and developers on downtown tours to encourage investment, he said.

"They want to see activity, investments, they want to make sure the community has skin in the game," said Gustafson. "The development community understands this community has skins in the game.

"Talk is cheap, but when you physically show them the improvements, it will make it more attractive to developers," Gustafson said.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031.

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