MANATEE -- A free powerboat race and festival planned for next year on the Manatee River is continuing to fine tune its plans.
The day-and-a-half event, with a working title of Bradenton Area RiverFest Regatta, is a scaled-down version of the Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta that features F2 powerboats zipping down the riverfront at 120 mph, coupled with two concerts, a fireworks show and more.
"We've been in and out of Manatee County working on the event almost every week," said Mike Fetchko, president of Integrated Strategic Marketing USA, the festival organizer, who splits his time between Pittsburgh and Lakewood Ranch. "We feel really good of where we are and where we're going, and we look forward to more successful meetings."
The next meeting comes Monday when the Bradenton Area Convention & Visitors Bureau will seek a recommendation from the Tourism Development Council to fund a $175,000 advertising sponsorship for the event, said Elliott Falcione, executive director of the CVB. The money will advertise the Bradenton area as a destination and also create a landing page on BradentonGulfIslands.com for the race to promote the event, he said.
"That partnership with will drive prospective visitors to our website so they can get immersed in our destination and event," Falcione said. Additional public relations and social media initiatives will be planned with the package, he said.
If approved, the County Commission will also have to OK the funds. The money will be paid by bed taxes, which are paid when guests stay at a hotel.
About 75,000 people are expected to attend the event in Palmetto and Bradenton next winter with concerts, ski and BMX shows and boat races.
Some tweaks expected
Organizers already had to move the festival date. The Gasparilla Pirate Festival announced recently that its 2015 buccaneer brigade will be held the weekend of Jan. 30 in Tampa, which is when the boat races were planned, Falcione said. Now, the race is pegged to happen Feb. 6-7, a Friday and Saturday.
"One reason why we are careful with some other big signature events in the region is I don't want our advertising commingling with advertising of another signature event," Falcione said. He wants all the attention in the region to be focused on the race festival.
Fetchko said the move also separates the family event from Gasparilla's adult party.
Feeding into the family theme, a national headlining Christian music performer is planned for a Friday concert in Palmetto, Fetchko said, while the Saturday concert will "be more family soft rock oriented."
The Pittsburgh regatta is a three-day event, creating a challenge for organizers who have to trim down the event to basically a day, Fetchko said. A jet ski race could be on the course and the dragon boats and skulls could also become a part of the festival, he said.
Fetchko is looking for two additional sponsors for the alcohol-free, family friendly free event. No beer sponsors will be allowed.
"We don't need to be out there pushing beer," Fetchko said. Instead, he's focusing on bringing premium food service and encouraging those who want to imbibe to enjoy a brew at the downtown restaurants and bars instead.
Organizers are working to bring in a total of six to eight corporate sponsors for $225,000, Falcione said
And then there's the name of the festival itself. Palmetto officials aren't happy that the county's convention center in their city says Bradenton Area, and Fetchko is well aware of that. That, and calling it a regatta here, has people thinking more about rowing and dragon boats than power boats, he said.
For the time being, the festival is being called the Bradenton Area RiverFest Regatta. Artwork and a logo are being created to help honor all Manatee County areas, including the Manatee River, to satisfy city pride and highlight all areas. More so, the marketing of a regatta means something different to Floridians than it does to Pittsburghers, thinking of sail boats instead of race boats.
"We've got to get it right," Fetchko said.
Several people, in letters to the editor, have questioned the logistics as well as environmental impacts of the race, and Fetchko said he's read all of the concerns and is working to assure that marine life will be protected.
Some of those requirements will be handled through the permitting process, which is still being taking place at the state and federal level, he said. Direction from those agencies will determine when the waterway will be closed to boater traffic and to cars on a portion of the Green Bridge, too.
"All those discussions have been very active," Fetchko said. " Let's let them weigh in -- the expertise from those folks who live here to safeguard the environment."
As part of its efforts, a 5K race is being planned on the Riverwalk during the festival, with proceeds going to a local environmental organization. Proceeds from food and beverage sales will go to another local environmental organization, with the goal of raising $25,000, he said.
"We're going to come in here and we're going to be respectful of the community, respectful of the waters, the land and the residents," Fetchko said. "We've looked at the letters, and we understand the letters."
F2 circuit race organizers will be in town Thursday to chart the course for the races, he said, looking at areas for the dry dock at Regatta Point in Palmetto and the wet pit at the Bradenton day dock. The course is planned to be running north-south between the Green Bridge and the Tropicana train bridge, he said, and the F2 race organizers have already used satellite imagery to analyze the water and depth.
There was a misconception from some public officials that the boats would run out into the Gulf of Mexico, and that was never the plan, Falcione added.
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.