When they open programs for current productions of "Grease" and "Always Patsy Cline," patrons of the Manatee Performing Arts Center find brightly colored maps and the words "Plan Now For Parking Later!"
A lot of people, maybe even most people, who go to Manatee Players shows have been parking on the dirt lot just west of the performing arts center. Soon that won't be an option.
"What we want to do is to get the word out about what the parking plan has been all along," said Janene Witham, the executive director of the Manatee Players.
That vacant lot will be the staging area for construction companies working on a new luxury apartment complex behind the performing arts center.
The map in the program points patrons to four alternate areas of public parking.
The Manatee Performing Arts Center, where the Manatee Players are in residence, is at 502 3rd Ave. W. in Bradenton. The four parking areas are the city lot immediately to the east; the first two floors of the parking garage just west of the center, at 808 Manatee Ave. W.; the area around the fountain in front of the Promenade at Riverwalk condominiums,
adjacent to that garage; and the post office at 824 Manatee Ave. W.
That dirt lot that's closing was never meant to be parking for the Manatee Performing Arts Center, Witham said. It's just an area that happened to be vacant.
"People think that parking is being taken away, but it's not," Witham said. "There were never any parking spaces to begin with."
Witham said she didn't know exactly when the construction would begin.
"We just know it's soon," she said.
The point of the maps is to inform people about where to park so they're not caught off-guard when that vacant lot is closed, she said.
The four nearby parking areas have about 500 spaces of free public parking. The combined capacity of the performing arts center's two theaters is a little less than 500.
The areas are not reserved for the Manatee Performing Arts Center, so there's no way to predict how many spaces will be open at any given time, but the 500 spaces should be enough, Witham said.
"We think this is adequate for our needs at this time," Witham said.
The farthest of the four lots, the one at the post office, is four blocks away, a walk of about a quarter-mile. The other areas are about half that distance or less.
Some people might not care to walk that far, but there are alternatives.
The center offers valet parking for $5, all of which, Witham said, goes to valet company, not to Manatee Players.
Drivers can also drop passengers at the front of the theater and then park, so only one person has to make the walk.
And Tim Polk, the city of Bradenton's director of planning and community development, said that Manatee Players is talking to the city about getting permission to run shuttles from some of the lots to the performing arts center.
"It'd be something like golf carts," Polk said. "We have to find out exactly which lots they're talking about."
Witham and Polk both said it was too early in the process to talk about any details of the shuttle service. But when major events are happening at the Riverwalk, those 500 spaces might be full, so a shuttle might have to include other areas.
The Manatee Center for the Performing Arts opened in March, so patrons have been parking in that vacant lot to the west for about six months. But center officials knew that was a short-term situation.
"We always knew this area was going to be developed," Witham said.
Officials of the Manatee Performing Arts Center always envisioned that the neighborhood would soon see development of apartments, restaurants and retail spaces, and that parking would be spread out around the area, as it is in many urban areas.
There's no room to provide significant parking on the Manatee Performing Arts Center property, Witham said.
"You walk around our building, and there's about 15 feet of land an all sides, north, south, east and west," she said. "A little more than that, maybe, but we're on a postage stamp."
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.