When we began handing out assignments in the newsroom for this special section, I caught myself asking, "Again?" After all, this marks the eighth edition of "Celebrate Bradenton." How much new can there be?
Ah, there is plenty, as my reporters remind us in this section. We have new businesses, new residents, new wildlife preserves, more jobs and renewed hope in a recovering economy. All the pieces that make up Bradenton add up to make our town a true destination.
Just take a stroll along the scenic Riverwalk; grab a bite and hear some music along Old Main Street; catch a ballgame at McKechnie Field, the jewel of Florida's spring training and minor league ballparks; or peruse the eclectic, inspired collections of our local artists in Village of the Arts. You've just started to get a glimpse of Bradenton's rich soul.
We didn't get here by accident. It takes the hard work of civic leaders and elected officials alike, working together through some tough years before seeing some of their dreams come true.
We have plenty of "new" to celebrate at the Bradenton Herald, too. We've been in our new digs at 1111 Third Ave. W. since September, and we're loving it. We're in the heart of downtown, with easy access in all directions. Our new newsroom is focused on both digital and print journalism, from our multimedia wall with flat-screen TVs, to Bay News 9's camera for interviews and a central universal desk for assigning editors and digital directors to work in tandem.
We have talented new reporters along with the veteran journalists you've come to know over the years. One of our newest reporters is Mark Young, who is covering all things Bradenton and Palmetto. His favorite project so far has been exploring Village of the Arts, examining what's working, what might need to change, and how it enriches the city of Bradenton.
Throughout the past year, our reporters have captured some of the remarkable causes to celebrate. Here's just a sampling:
We had record attendance at McKechnie Field for spring training -- an average game attendance of 7,587, sports writer John Lembo reported.
The historic "Pink Hotel," looming vacant and in tatters for years downtown, reopened after a spectacular $21 million renovation as a Hampton Inn and Suites. The 119-room hotel has all-new rooms, but much of its historic detail has been preserved.
The Manatee Players celebrated their first year in the $15 million Manatee Performing Arts Center, and features reporter Marty Clear wrote about everything from the stunning production of "Miss Saigon" to the impressive staging of "Les Miserables."
The first two microbreweries have opened in Bradenton, with one more soon to follow, and business reporter Charles Schelle has chronicled the new trend. Why here? Just ask the owner of Motorworks: "We have been made to feel so welcomed by our neighbors in and around the Village of the Arts, and by the City of Bradenton," Denise Tschida told the Herald. "We've definitely experienced Bradenton's 'Friendly City' claim."
The upcoming year promises just as many headlines to celebrate for Manatee County. The $315 million, two-story Mall at University Center is on schedule to open in October with 120 stores and restaurants along University Parkway near Interstate 75. (Here's hoping we can celebrate some much-needed traffic solutions by then!)
The area is cementing its reputation as a sports tourism mecca, led in large part by University Park's Benderson Park and Bradenton's IMG Academy. Nearby, plans continue to evolve for Whiting Preston's 1,300-acre master planned community to be called Lake Flores -- a name, he says, that reflects West Bradenton's core value of family. It honors both his mother, Flavia Florez Preston, and the heritage of gladiolus that grew on the family's property for a half-century.
Why is it important to celebrate Bradenton? Because we're paving the way for the next generation to enjoy this community.
A recent poll puts a stark spotlight on this need. Americans overwhelmingly believe that childhood and parenthood were better for previous generations, according to the Heartland Monitor Poll, conducted every year by Allstate and the National Journal.
Americans, the poll concluded, "are uncertain about future prospects for today's children, their ability to get ahead, and to reach personal and financial milestones as adults."
Each year, I've been honored to interview high school seniors for the Golden Herald awards -- a time-honored tradition by the Bradenton Herald. One of the most striking highlights: So many of our kids say they want to come back to Bradenton after college.
So let's prove that poll wrong in Bradenton. Let's celebrate!
"It's always good to remember where you come from and celebrate it. To remember where you come from is part of where you're going." -- Anthony Burgess
Joan Krauter, executive editor of the Herald, can be reached at 941-745-7070. Follow her on Twitter@JEKrauter.