Bradenton's unique Village of the Arts continues to blossom as Florida's largest artists' colony. Officially born on Jan. 13, 2000, this colorful community just south of downtown enjoys a growing reputation and the future looks bright. A host of developments in 2014 point to a rewarding 15th year.
Thanks to the city of Bradenton, the Downtown Development Authority and the nonprofit Realize Bradenton, village home, gallery and restaurant owners and other stakeholders command a strong focus as a place that is one of the keys to growth in tourism and the economy. Together, they constructed a Plan to Act Tapestry Project, which provides a blueprint for village progress.
Once a blighted neighborhood, village founders took a risk in establishing an arts community. With some 40 artists united in the goal, the Artists Guild of Manatee came into being and today stands as the village's bedrock organization. Now, the 42-acre neighborhood holds some 35 businesses, mostly galleries and studios.
While the Great Recession slowed progress on improvements, the city never wavered from a mission to help cultivate the village into a major attraction. Flooding problems are being addressed with the installation of a new stormwater drainage system, and a new water main will improve distribution.
One dilapidated, abandoned home -- gutted by a fire last year -- was torn down in September, and others have bee targeted for demolition after the city adopted an ordinance that allowed such threats to public safety to be removed.
The city council also amended code to let village businesses to post banner and wind signs that say "Open" while displaying the Village of the Arts logo. One of the priorities of residents, the signs will steer visitors to business cottages and away from residences. Several gateway signs that stretch high across certain streets are also on the drawing board. That will eliminate any uncertainty among motorists searching for the village.
Another stakeholder priority is proper illumination at night for pedestrian traffic and public safety, and here again the city is forging ahead with the installation of more antique-style streetlamps and painting existing ones in more colorful village hues.
The city is looking at obtaining some empty lots to convert to parking for visitors. While residents seek a trolley to connect downtown to the village, some type of intermodal transportation system appears to be down the road. The DDA indicates this is a priority, but it's unlikely to happen in 2015. Still, the city will not lose sight of this important connectivity.
The Plan to Act Tapestry Project, finalized early this year, not only encompasses the village but includes the 14th Street West Community Redevelopment Area -- binding the two together in an overlay district with distinct zoning regulations. The city council will review that proposal next year after staff identifies potential conflicts with existing land-use rules. This should spark additional growth.
A special anniversary celebration will be held during Friday evening's Artwalk (villageofthearts.com).
The city of Bradenton is blessed with a flourishing arts community after 15 years. Upcoming improvements promise even greater dividends from a wise investment all those years ago.