There's little doubt that the Manatee Performing Arts Center has enhanced downtown Bradenton as a whole. But there have been a lot of complaints ever since the center opened in 2013 about the parking.
Sure, there were places to park a few blocks away -- closer if you arrived early and got a little lucky -- and there was valet parking and a shuttle from the parking garage down the street. But using the valet service costs $5 (all of which goes to valet service, none to the performing arts center) and you have to wait in line for your car to come back after the show, when everyone was leaving at the same time. And waiting for the shuttle is a bit of a pain.
Things are going to get a whole lot better pretty soon.
The city recently loaned the center about $2.7 million to buy the property directly across Third Avenue West. (The city had loaned Manatee Players a larger sum to help pay for construction of the center, and Manatee Players paid it back almost a decade early.)
There's an abandoned apartment complex on the property and a few other structures. The plan is to tear down the buildings and create a paved parking lot for the Manatee Performing Arts Center. At this point it's just a plan.
The "for sale" sign is still standing on the property, because the MPAC sale hasn't been signed yet. They're hoping to close by the end of March, but if you've ever bought property you know these things take time.
Besides, the performing arts center still needs to raise a lot of money for tearing down the building and constructing the parking area; the loan was just for purchasing the property. They need to raise a total of about $970,000, and so far they have about $700,000.
There's no reason to think it won't all happen as planned, though. Manatee Players have shown an astounding ability to make their grand visions come to
fruition, largely because Bradenton and Manatee County have shown as astounding willingness to support them.
And the vision calls for a parking lot that will enhance the aesthetics of the area as well as the convenience.
The lot will be attended when there are shows at the center. Janene Amick, the executive director of the Manatee Performing Arts Center, said it's way too early to think about specifics for the parking plan. She said they're figuring it will be free to their patrons, but there might be a fee for people who are going to other events and other businesses.
It'll be a decent place to park if you're going to the Riverwalk. It'd be a great place to park for the Bradenton Blues Festival, for example, and that could bring in some decent income for the center.
The lot will be lighted, and the lights will be antique-style ones like those along Third Avenue.
Of course, the parking lot, being across the street, will mean that a few hundred people will be crossing Third Avenue within a period of 20 minutes or so before the show, and all at the same time afterward. Traffic's not too bad along that stretch, but that could still pose a safety problem, especially at night.
Amick said the city plans to create "a very nice-looking crosswalk that will slow down traffic." There might be something like a crosswalk that lights up when people step into the street. A pedestrian traffic signal is always a possibility, but she said that hasn't been discussed at this point.
The center may continue to offer the shuttle service from the nearby garage, and may still offer valet service. All of that up in the air at this point. All this is in its very, very early stages. What's for sure is that the experience of going to shows at the Manatee Performing Arts Center -- and even the experience of walking up Third Avenue in front of the Manatee Performing Arts Center -- will be significantly more pleasing in a year or so.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.