The City of Bradenton ranks as one of the country’s fastest-growing municipalities — 46th on that list — and sixth among Florida cities. Civic leaders set the course for growth long ago with strategic plans, Downtown By Design, Realize Bradenton, Village of the Arts Tapestry Project and more. Riverwalk became a pivotal product of visionary planning. Today, downtown Bradenton stands poised for a major makeover with an astonishing number of projects both public and private that, if completed, will propel the city into a future with much greater promise.
The reasons for that belief are many and varied, as outlined recently by Herald urban affairs reporter Mark Young .
Bradenton’s hotel offerings are too slim to satisfy the business community, we’ve heard from prominent civic leaders. The city-owned lot formerly home to the old Manatee Players theater should soon see construction of a seven-story Spring Hill Suites hotel with a pool, restaurant and outdoor tiki bar. The city holds a $650,000 purchase agreement with North Star Lodging and Development for the site, across from city hall and the downtown marina. The $17 million project is expected to begin by year’s end. Plus, the city intends to build a parking garage to serve the public and hotel guests on the southwest corner of the city hall parking lot.
Old Main Street and surrounding downtown streets are in line for improvements to boost walkability, possibly with wider sidewalks to serve pedestrians and businesses with outdoor cafe tables. A new landscaping plan and enhanced overhead lighting are possible, too. The city hopes to engage landscape architects to design a friendlier streetscape. Some on-street parking would be eliminated, but a city parking garage should solve demand.
Walkability is the key to creating a pedestrian-friendly route from downtown Bradenton to Village of the Arts, which has been a major goal in the city’s many initiatives to boost economic revitalization and visitor appeal. A part of that connectivity is now coming to fruition as a safety project by the Florida Department of Transportation. The design stage is under way, and construction could start late next year on a median, turn lanes and crosswalks along Eighth Avenue West between Ninth Street West and 14th Street West. Those two north-south roads are the key routes into the village. The city has already undertaken lighting, flooding and other projects in the village, improving its look and safety, and additional projects are in the works under the tapestry initiative.
The South Florida Museum plans a fascinating $12 million expansion designed to create a “museum of the future” with a hands-on learning center concentrating on science, technology, engineering and math, the so-called STEM disciplines driving contemporary education. The project will build stronger connections between the museum and the community, too. Ground-breaking is scheduled for June 2017.
Renovations and the expansion of the Twin Dolphin Marina are close to proceeding. The city-owned but privately operated marina will gain 129 slips in the $4.5 million project. The Pier 22 restaurant there finished a $400,000 interior renovation recently.
City hall, sitting on valuable riverfront land, continues to be a target for sale with relocation of Bradenton’s government to another site. If sold, this prime spot for private development would return to the property tax rolls and generate revenue for the city. The selection of this riverfront site for city hall some 20 years ago provoked a contentious controversy that reverberates today.
The city agreed to loan $2.7 million to the Manatee Players theater for the purchase of 2.6 acres across the street from the performing arts center, thus removing the aging eyesore and empty apartment building there. The lot will be open to the public during major events along Riverwalk.
The Villages of Riverwalk, a 521-unit, all-rental housing development just east of downtown, continues to face stiff neighborhood opposition over the planned relocation of Glazier Gates Park in a land swap between the city and developers. The $17 million project faces an appeal of a resident lawsuit rejected by a judge in May.
Bullish on Bradenton? The economic redevelopment prospects paint a positive picture.