BRADENTON -- Permits are in hand, most details are finalized and competitors are ready to hit the Manatee River for the second annual Bradenton Area River Regatta on Feb. 6.
Officials and organizers met at Pier 22 on Tuesday for a kickoff press conference to make the final announcements. The pre-regatta excitement was summed up by Bright House Sports Network's Rock Riley: "I'm all jacked up. We all know how big this is for our area, but it's big for the state of Florida and internationally, as well."
Powerboat Super League Series co-owner Sam Winer said the 2015 inaugural regatta was the most-attended boat race ever in the state of Florida with an estimated 80,000 attendees, and the third-largest boat race spectator event recorded in the United States.
"I just want to congratulate both cities and ISM-USA and everyone who had a hand in last year's spectacular event, and it was spectacular," said Winer.
As spectacular as last year's event turned out, with an estimated 95 percent of attendees saying they would return for a second regatta, officials promise a "bigger and better" event on both land and water Feb. 6.
"I'm so excited to see the regatta coming back, and with a lot more events on both sides of the river," said Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant. "The ISM-USA team made a lot of modifications that will make this a bigger and better event, and it's going to make a big difference."
ISM-USA president Mike Fetchko, event organizer, said the Formula 2 racing series, as well as the HydroCross jet ski Wintercross Championship Series, will feature dozens of the nation's best racers. Formula 2 will feature a dozen competitors stacked with event and world championship titles to their credit. The boats can reach speeds of 100 mph in less than 4 seconds. Qualifying runs and speed trials will take place from 2-4:15 p.m., with boats being staged from the Palmetto side of the river at Riverside Park West.
The boat ramp will close to the general public from 8 a.m. Friday until 2 a.m. Sunday. However, there is expected to be a more beneficial viewing opportunity of the boats and drivers than last year.
Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston showed his long-standing support of the regatta by attending the press conference in full racing gear, saying, "We're going to have a great time."
The free event includes two major concerts on both sides of the river with contemporary Christian star Brandon Heath taking the Palmetto stage near Riverside Park West at 4:30 p.m. At the Bradenton main stage at Riverwalk, Beatlemania Now will take the stage at the same time.
Prior to both main performances, music and entertainment begin at 11 a.m. with the Del Couch Foundation providing local talent in Bradenton, including Bradenton's own American Idol Sam Woolf, who will open for Beatlemania Now and sing the national anthem. In Palmetto, Bayside and Woodland community churches have organized a full day of local Christian talent also beginning at 11 a.m.
Along Riverwalk throughout the day will be BMX stunt rider Chris Clark's demonstrations, the Frisbee flying trick and dog show by Sky Bound Canines, and the Bright House/Pittsburgh Pirates Fun Zone, as well as the Hernando DeSoto Historical Society Food Fest and Manatee County Arts Center art gallery show.
In Palmetto, the day kicks off at 7 a.m. with the DeSoto Little Anglers Fishing Tournament on the Palmetto fishing pier.
Green Bridge closures
The Green Bridge will close at 4 a.m. Feb. 6 and will not reopen until late Saturday night. Race organizers say students taking the ACT tests at local high schools are encouraged to use the DeSoto Bridge. Boat traffic will have "minimum access" to the stretch of the Manatee River between the two bridges throughout the day, according to ISM-USA's Michael Dongilli.
As part of the Florida Department of Transportation permit to close the bridge, a transportation system between Bradenton and Palmetto was approved.
"There will be some kind of shuttle system in place," said Dongilli. "That's one of the last details we are working on and are trying to orchestrate that now."
The day will conclude with another Zambelli Fireworks International grand finale. Zambelli's Mike Simmons promises that this year's show will be even better.
"Zambelli is excited to partner once again with the regatta, and this year will be a completely different show with new effects and many new surprises," said Simmons. "We are going to light up the waterfront like nothing that has ever been seen in the state of Florida."
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter@urbanmark2014.