Bradenton Regatta

Bradenton's Riverwalk renovations nearly complete, grand opening Oct. 18

BRADENTON -- Within a month, the chain-linked fence around the park will be gone, the dirt areas will be covered with fresh grass, and more colorful signs will hang from light posts to let people know they are on Bradenton's revamped 1.5-mile Riverwalk.

"We are very anxious and looking forward to unveiling the park to the residents of the community, Bradenton, and the world," said David Gustafson, Bradenton's Downtown Development Authority's executive director.

The renovated Riverwalk is scheduled to open Oct. 18, about a year after its groundbreaking ceremony.

The Riverwalk stretches along the Manatee River from the Green Bridge to Manatee Memorial Hospital. The $6.2 million in improvements are more than 90 percent complete, will be finished on time, and "will make people stand up and take notice," Gustafson said.

A day dock, fishing pier, and skateboard park are nearly completed, pending added lighting. Nets and poles for two volleyball courts are expected to go up within 10 days. The amphitheater's stage has been expanded about 30 percent in order to fit larger bands and sycamore trees have been planted around it to provide natural shade. The amphitheater will be carry the name of the Mosaic Company Foundation, following a $95,000 grant from the company.

On Monday, workers in hard hats were seen walking around the park, some working on electrical wiring, others seemingly putting finishing touches at the new interactive splash fountains around the middle of the park.

"Our goal is to make this into something that citizens are proud of," said Gustafson. "We want to utilize it as an economic engine to help further every part of our community and make it as far reaching as possible."

The horticultural work of about a dozen adults from Community Haven for Adults and Children with Disabilities Inc. will also be featured at the Riverwalk's new butterfly garden. Adults with disabilities were employed to cultivate and plant along the Riverwalk native plants that attract butterflies, said Marla Doss, president and chief executive officer of Community Haven.

"It's the work of many people ... from different walks of our community," said Doss, of the Riverwalk. "Who would've thought that people with disabilities would have a hand with this beautiful project?"

Realize Bradenton, a nonprofit created to promote downtown Bradenton, has a series of events scheduled at the Riverwalk, including free movie showings, art events, and the 2012 Bradenton Blues Festival.

"This has been years in the making, the whole transformation of the Manatee riverfront," said Johnette Isham, executive director of Realize Bradenton. "It's not just enough to provide a physical space, we need a space that comes alive, something for everyone."

The Riverwalk grand opening festivities are set to begin at 4:30 p.m. Oct. 18.

Miriam Valverde, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @MiriamValverde.