Bradenton council gives initial OK to 2015 powerboat race

Manatee migration routes could pose potential obstacle for event organizers

cschelle@bradenton.comFebruary 27, 2014 

BRADENTON -- Plans for a newly announced 2015 Bradenton area powerboat race and related festivities are moving along -- just not as fast as the Formula 2 boats.

The Bradenton City Council granted unanimous conceptual approval at its Wednesday night meeting for the powerboat race, which is expected to be held Jan. 30-31, 2015, on the Manatee River.

The approval puts the rest of the event planning in motion to have organizers gain permitting approval from the cities of Bradenton and Palmetto as well as federal approvals to race in the water during peak manatee migration season.

"We love your city. We love your Riverwalk. We love the Manatee River," said Mike Fetchko, president of Integrated Strategic Marketing USA, the festival organizer. "All the great success we had principally with the Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta, we think a lot of those programming assets are made for your Riverwalk and made for your Manatee River."

Event organizers revealed more details Wednesday after a site visit to Riverwalk helped bridge together thoughts for the event. The Green, DeSoto and railroad bridges will act as focal points for what's being billed as the largest free event downtown has seen in years.

The boats, which can reach speeds of 120 mph, will race in a north-south oval using Bradenton's day dock as a hot pit and launch, Fetchko said, giving a grand view for folks in the deepest part of the linear Riverwalk and Anthony T. Rossi Waterfront Park and probably causing a some stares from drivers passing by on the bridges.

"We got a much better perspective on what we thought were the prime spectator vantage points," said Michael Dongilli, vice president of ISM-USA. "The biggest picture started to come into play when we got to walk in not only the Riverwalk area, but the bridges, the piers -- the things like that how things would connect."

Festival organizers also want permission from Florida Department of Transportation to close the northbound lanes of the Green Bridge to use as a spectator area and allow people to walk between Palmetto and Bradenton during the event.

"We think it will be a spectacular area for the spectators to view the race," said Fetchko, who is setting up a satellite office in the county to focus on the festival.

About 75,000 people are expected to attend the festival, highlighting the need to move people across the water.

"That's going to demonstrate the need for more pedestrian access between the two cities," said David Gustafson, executive director of the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority.

A water taxi service would likely come into play, too, to bring people from Bradenton to Palmetto.

The amphitheater could stage BMX stunt shows, Fetchko added, in addition to drawing national extreme sport athletes to the skatepark.

Staging for the Zambelli fireworks show is coming into shape as well as other ideas for concerts throughout the downtown area.

Fetchko said he plans to bring jet ski races and water ski shows to the event, too.

It turns out the Manatee River will be even more attractive for racing than the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh.

"Yours is like glass," Fetchko said. "I understand if a cold front comes through there will be a chop, but that chop is nothing compared to what the powerboat does up in Pittsburgh."

The Manatee River is a mile wide while the Allegheny is a quarter-mile wide and a choppier course, said Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. The race would also be the only Florida stop on the Powerboat Superleague circuit.

City officials are measuring how deep the river is on the race course, but depth should not be a problem as powerboats skim across the water and motors reach about a foot deep, Gustafson said.

One of the chief concerns so far is about manatee migration during January into warmer river waters. Councilman Patrick Roff encouraged organizers to work with Mote Marine Laboratory and marine biologists to figure out best practices.

"I think we can probably monitor them and make sure they're not in the area," Roff said. "It is going to be a concern. We are Manatee County."

Councilman Gene Gallo said the manatees tend to migrate north to the Tampa Electric plant in Apollo Beach for the warmer water and thinks few are in the Manatee River at that time.

Gustafson said manatees will be protected as federal permits require. The offshore races have to gain permits through the Department of Environmental Protection, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he said.

"Environmental issues are an extreme concern to us," Gustafson said. "We are not going to ignore them."

The city will be asked to approve event permits. Conceptual approval came with requirements for permit approval, insurance, a memorandum of understanding and directions on how the city will participate.

Palmetto will also be asked for permission at its March 3 meeting. The Manatee County Tourist Development Council will be asked April 21 to recommend a sponsorship package for the County Commission to approve.

Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.

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