MANATEE -- Manatee County millennials want to see progress in the community being made and the community is taking another step forward next weekend.
On Friday, the Bradenton Shuffleboard Courts will be transformed into a social event complete with music, food, drinks and of course, shuffleboarding, as the kickoff to the first-ever #4Progress -- Millennial Con, a three-day conference for millennials, which will take place April 1-3.
"I think some of the fun events that we are doing at the conference are going to reenvision some spaces like the shuffleboard court and we will start to add to the vibrant nightlife that young people are talking about wanting here in Manatee County," said Ogden Clark, 32, a member of the Manatee Millennial Movement.
The Manatee Millennial Movement, or M3, is a group of Manatee County government employees who began last January when they brought the housing issue to light and made people aware of the challenges millennials, or those who were born between 1980 and 2000, face in the county.
"It just morphed and kind of based on the interactions we've had it has kind of formed where we are today," said Simone Peterson, 26, a M3 member.
As another way to get young people to start to realize that they have a stake in planning for the community's future, the millennial conference was born. The conference, which is a follow-up to last spring's #iSeeManatee event, is intended for young professionals 40 years old and younger.
"This conference, we looked at as a way to really target millennials to get a group of young professionals to be able to focus on issues that are going to affect their lives in 10, 15 years," Clark said.
Manatee millennials often say that they don't see young people in town but there will be a room full of them at the conference next weekend, said Ani Mena, a member of the Manatee Millennial Movement.
"We want you civically engaged," the 25-year-old said. "We want you making decisions, but it is good for you also on a personal level because you are going to get skills like financial planning and other things."
The three-day conference kicks off at the Bradenton Shuffleboard Courts with a Shuffleboard PopUp Party, which is being put on by Realize Bradenton thanks to funding by the Knight Cities Challenge. The event, which begins at 6 p.m., will be at 1525 Ballard Park Drive, Bradenton.
"There is going to be a lot
of fun," said Catherine Ferrer, community engagement coordinator with Realize Bradenton. "They can try new things."
While the PopUps for a Purpose are temporary in nature, the Cosmic Shuffleboard is the one PopUp that has staying power, Ferrer said.
"This one we are looking at, 'Is there something from this PopUp that can last past Friday, April 1?'" she said.
On Saturday morning, the conference will shift to the Bradenton Area Convention Center, One Haben Blvd., Palmetto, where the main conference day filled with programming will take place. Throughout the day, the millennials will learn about different aspects, including financial stability, networking works and living green and lean. They also will have the chance to talk with developers and others about the barriers to millennial housing.
The weekend ends with yoga and mimosas at Manatee Public Beach at 9 a.m. Sunday.
"We would encourage people to just come out," Peterson said. "Don't be afraid. It's an open forum. If you are planning on living here the next five to 10 years, it behooves you to at least play a role. We want to hear what you want because we are in an unique position where our leadership is saying, 'Hey, we are listening to you. What do you guys want? We will try to make it work.' "
Since the inception of the Manatee Millennial Movement, the focus has been on engaging the millennials in Manatee County. But the conference has been a catalyst to expand that discussion, Mena said.
With millennials from outside Manatee County coming to the conference, there is now talk between different organizations within the county but also with surrounding counties, she said.
"It's also helped us to talk to people who are trying to do the same things down in Sarasota," Mena said. "It is amazing to be able to work together for the same cause. That's not really what's been happening in the past. We've been doing our own thing."
The housing problem has a larger scale than just Manatee County, Peterson said, adding that they are now talking with the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce Young Professionals Group.
"It's not a Manatee problem," she said. "It's a Manasota problem. They are seeing a need down there for that. There is going to be future collaboration with them."
As the movement crosses county lines, it will give even more credibility to what the millennials have been talking about with regard to housing and other issues they face, Peterson said.
For the millennials, they are not trying to see who gets the credit, Peterson added, but they just want to see progress made.
"Housing is something we all need," she said. "It's not a want. It's a need."
What's next for Manatee?
The Manatee Millennial Movement is going to come away from next weekend's conference with data such as areas millennials want to see redeveloped, Clark said.
"I think that's something that we are hoping to get out of this one," he said, adding that some developers and county leadership will be at the conference hearing this feedback.
In May, the county millennials are planning to take the data collected to develop a booklet about "what our Manatee County millennials are looking for as far as housing," which they would be able to give to developers when they come in, Peterson said.
"It's trying to get them to think outside the box," she said. "You don't have to have that cookie cutter luxury home, apartment or just that single family development. Let's try to think outside the box."
"The developer looks at developing and they will at least have the information to consider it and know that there is a market for it here," Clark added.
As the county prepares to make changes to the county code to encourage redevelopment along urban corridors, this is the time to go into the Land Development Code and see what actually needs to be changed based on the recommendations from the conference, Peterson said.
"What are the actual codes that are preventing dorm style housing or whatever people are saying?" Peterson said.
The county planners are also using the conference as an opportunity to get public input on the proposed changes to the land development code, in addition to the park master plan. The Comprehensive Plan Amendment is expected to go before the planning commission in May, then the county commission in June for a transmittal hearing to the state. The amendment will come before the commission in August for final approval. At that point, the Land Development Code, which implements the Comprehensive Plan, will come before the commission for approval later this year.
While the millennials are waiting to see how the first conference goes before deciding whether to do it again, they are talking about potentially shifting it into a regional, Southwest Florida program, Clark said.
The nice weather and beaches get young people to come visit the area but this could allow the area to sell itself as an "area that is trying to cater to millennials," he said.
"Maybe think about moving here and maybe start to think about, 'Hey my community isn't doing this. This is pretty cool. I can think about living here,'" he said.
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.