PALMETTO -- Everything appears to be falling in place for a proposed 2015 Formula 2 power boat racing regatta on the Manatee River between the shores of Palmetto and Bradenton, including a new Riverside Park boat ramp in Palmetto to launch the racing vessels.
A race date has not been set but, according to David Gustafson, Bradenton Downtown Development Authority executive director, the inaugural Manatee River event will take place in late January or early February.
"It's going to happen," said Gustafson.
Organizers are reviewing a tentative course site on the east side of the Green Bridge. The mile-long loop course has long straightaways and hairpin curves with each straightaway stretching a half mile across the mile-wide river.
Bradenton's Riverwalk will be a prime area for watching the races, but organizers want this to be a joint venture between the two river cities.
"There is strength in numbers," said Gustafson. "It's why events in this area continue to be successful because we are always looking to be a partner."
Tourists don't know when they are crossing into one city or the other, Gustafson said.
"So why should we think in those terms? Does an alarm go off in my car when I cross the Green Bridge saying I've left Bradenton? No, it doesn't. Tourists don't look at boundaries and neither should we."
While Bradenton's viewing area can accommodate more people, Gustafson said Palmetto's involvement is important, which is why he and event organizer Mike Fetchko met with Palmetto officials
earlier this month.
"We are still trying to evaluate what part Palmetto can play," said Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant.
Palmetto's Riverside Park will soon undergo a $1 million boat ramp renovation, expanding launching capacity and improving parking. The boat ramp area is being considered as a launch site for some of the F2 boats so Riverside Park could be a viable destination for F2 fans.
Bryant said the boat ramp construction has an expected completion date of Jan. 15. It is being funded by the Southwest Florida Water Management District and West Coast Inland Navigation District.
Plans call for dredging, doubling the launching area, improving parking and maneuverability and aesthetic upgrades that include using decorative paver bricks efficient in drainage.
"We are so proud we are doing this," said Bryant. "I think it will be one of the nicest boat ramps around."
If F2 organizers use the boat ramp, Bryant said, it will be an ideal launching point for competitors and spectators. But other than local amenities, she isn't sure what else Palmetto can offer.
"I don't think Palmetto will be a spectator destination because Riverwalk will have more viewing opportunities, but the talks we have had are more for entertainment," said Bryant. "I believe Bradenton is planning on having some kind of rock concert in the Riverwalk area, and the organizers looked at our Sutton Park to complement that event with a possible Christian concert."
Bryant said city officials aren't likely to get much more involved, but she encouraged local volunteer groups to help organize Palmetto's potential contribution to a Christian concert.
"I think the regatta will benefit the city," said Bryant. "The spillover opportunities for these types of events can be endless."
The annual F2 regatta in Pittsburgh draws an estimated 600,000 people. Fetchko, of Integrated Strategic Marketing, estimates as many as 75,000 could turn out for Manatee River's inaugural race, which is essentially a two-day event.
The course location is to be determined, hopefully somewhere east of the Green Bridge if organizers can get the Florida Department of Transportation to close the east lanes for the event. West lanes would remain open for two-way traffic.
Gustafson said he would like a running event take place while the bridge is closed to symbolize Bradenton's connection to Palmetto and allow an ideal viewing location atop the bridge looking down on the race course.
"Traffic on the weekends is 30 percent less than weekdays and will have minimal impact," said Gustafson.
Organizers are in talks with FDOT.
Mark Young, urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041.