A grand opportunity to improve Bradenton's Ballard Park

February 5, 2014 

Staff Photographer

Bradenton Ward 3 Councilman Patrick Roff said this property along Ware's Creek north of Ninth Avenue West and across from Ballard Elementary could be turned into a preserve with canoe and kayak launches.PAUL VIDELA/Bradenton Herald

PAUL VIDELA — pvidela@bradenton.com Buy Photo

The city of Bradenton has a rare opportunity to create a neighborhood park that would be a people magnet -- a creekside green place close to downtown where grilling hamburgers, flinging a disc and watching children play would be imminently enjoyable. This spot along Ware's Creek in the Ballard Park neighborhood is a treasure, small but scenic.

The century-old pine and red cedar trees stand as native sculptures along the newly dredged creek. Living art. That beautiful landscape should be preserved as a testament to Bradenton's commitment to the quality of life and economic development as reflected by Riverwalk.

Parks are a critical part of both. Any Manatee County resident walking along Riverwalk will easily observe the pleasure that people get from strolling along that walkway, soaking up the views and watching youngsters enjoy the skatepark and playground.

While the Ware's Creek parcel may not include such exclusive features, a kayak and canoe launch, grills and picnic tables would enliven the small plot of land. Visitors could enjoy watching osprey, manatee and dolphins, too.

The city owns that property, thanks to homebuilder John Neal forgoing development there and selling the land at a bargain-basement price that the city estimated at $1 million below the appraised value.

That sale occurred some 14 months ago, and Bradenton is engaging residents in a visioning process to determine the future of that land. That should sound familiar, since citizen input created Riverwalk.

This Ballard Park neighborhood plot may seem small, but its importance ranks greater than the size of the land. This is a short distance from Village of the Arts, which is a key part of the city's economic development and a focus of a vigorous strategy to improve this artist colony just south of downtown. A park nearby in the Ballard neighborhood would boost those efforts.

Besides browsing in the village's many art galleries and dining in the restaurants, visitors could be enticed into renting bicycles for riding to the park and elsewhere, as well as obtaining a kayak for a float along Ware's Creek.

Bradenton officials will hold a workshop in the coming weeks to gauge resident desires and then come up with a plan, possibly in May for the city council to consider. Simply put, the land is beautiful. The trees are spectacular. The creek is once again a sight to enjoy. This should be a people place, a park.

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