Today marks a milestone in the history of Bradenton. When the landmark Manatee River Hotel officially becomes the Hampton Inn & Suites by accepting guests today, champagne should be bubbling in celebration among historic preservationists, civic leaders and residents who have longed for this day for years. The fears of demolition have long passed.
This is a day that cannot be overstated in its significance to this community. One simple building links the past to the future in a way that no other structure in this city could.
The fact that this 10-month renovation project brought the building into the digital, modern world while preserving the ambience of another era is reason to rejoice. The $21 million renovation allows the hotel to become listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a badge that will attract a clientele that otherwise might bypass Bradenton.
But the debut of the Hampton means more than just the resurrection of a piece of property. Downtown has been experiencing a renaissance with the 1-year-old Riverwalk and the addition of restaurants and nightclubs, a match with the Hampton since the hotel does not offer those amenities. But this hotel is the linchpin in the hopes and dreams of a larger downtown revival -- an economic development tool that will serve the city well into the future.
Widewaters Development invested mightily in Bradenton, though we consider a return not a gamble but a sure thing. Already, wedding parties and other big groups are booking the hotel's colonnade -- some three dozen in the next year alone.
The seven-story hotel, completed during the Roaring '20s during a boom time when affluence and indulgence ruled American culture, opened in 1926 with a beige/off-white coat -- not the pink that famously became its beloved nickname later. The much-revered Pink Palace did not appear until 1983. Then, that fresh coat of paint became famous, but today's new Hilton-stamped Hampton looks like the original hotel. The color suits downtown very well.
Widewaters went through exacting detail not only with restoration of the exterior but interior as well. Replacing the termite-damaged woodwork with matching replica pieces down to the finest detail and the hand-copied stenciling of designs painted in the atrium show the dedication that the company exercised to bring this building not just back to life, but back to historic importance.
That alone is well worth celebrating. But this one hotel is expected to propel the city's economy to the tune of $2.5 million on top of room rates during its first year, just based on the average guest spending $50 daily in the community, according to Widewaters. Downtown restaurants are salivating at the potential. The city anticipates an additional $500,000 in tourism and sales taxes, too.
The best prediction comes from Dave Gustafson, the director of the Bradenton's Downtown Development Authority: "My increase in business calls since Riverwalk opened is up 40 percent. I assume once the hotel opens, it will go up another 20 percent on top of that."
We hope that's a conservative estimate.
Welcome to the downtown family, Hampton Inn & Suites. And kudos to Widewaters for a magnificent project. This is a historic day for Bradenton.