BRADENTON -- Two Formula 2 Powerboat Super League competitors, including the 2014 series champion Jeff "The Jet" Reno, of Okeechobee, powered across the Manatee River on Tuesday -- a preview of what's to come at the Bradenton Area Riverwalk Regatta.
Following in their wake was a preview of Hydro-Cross jet ski racing, where fearless competitors reach speeds of 95 mph wearing little safety gear other than courage on their sleeves.
A small army of media from around Tampa Bay were the first to sample some of the events planned for Feb. 7, which will include a world championship XPOGO show where competitors perform stunts while reaching 9 feet into the sky. Multiple events will be ongoing, including a performance by Bradenton's own "American Idol," Sam Woolf, who will open for Jefferson Starship.
The day's packed events will conclude with a Zambelli International fireworks show that organizers are promising will be on a scale never before seen on the Gulf Coast.
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Zambelli has done shows at Super Bowls and presidential inaugurations and considers the Bradenton Area Riverwalk Regatta to be equal to those events.
"We consider this to be a major event," said Mason Meyer, Zambel
li International Southeast regional manager. "This show is probably something never seen by people in this area."
Specialized fireworks shells are being chosen from all over the world.
Mike Fetchko, Integrated Strategic Marketing president and organizer of the event, said this has been "an event that has been in everybody's dreams for the last 3 1/2 years."
Organizing at the local level has been Bradenton Downtown Executive Director Dave Gustafson.
"I look around and am shocked at the vision of where we first started and where we are today," he said. "I am humbled at the amount of effort this community has put into this event. This is what this is about, it's about community."
Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Elliott Falcione has predicted up to 100,000 people will attend the inaugural event, creating more than a $10 million local economic impact. With it being a first-year event, it's difficult to project those kinds of numbers, but Falcione said a third-party study was done to take into account all the factors associated with the event and the population of the Tampa Bay region.
Parking in downtown Bradenton and Palmetto is limited, however. Officials have put together a parking plan that includes up to 2,000 spaces in Palmetto and up to 8,000 more spaces in Bradenton. There won't be shuttles available for the public, Gustafson said, but there are numerous parking areas within a 15-minute walk from the regatta venues.
Organizers have been in talks with private parking areas to have them open up for local charities to operate on a charge-to-park basis. Even if the average car contains four regatta-goers, the designed parking plan still only accommodates 40,000 people.
People not attending the regatta are encouraged to avoid the area.
The regatta itself is billed as a "family, fun, free event" that also will be alcohol free, but local businesses will be open to serve those looking for libations. However, local alcohol ordinances will apply and alcohol is not allowed to be carried at the event locations.
The regatta was initially billed as a two-day event with a Christian concert planned for Palmetto, but that concert was canceled after organizers failed to secure a headline act. Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant said she understands the challenge of planning a first-year event, but with vendors set up in Palmetto, as well as the new Riverside Park boat ramp being used as a staging location for the races, she expects the city to reap the benefits of a major event.
"We all look forward to seeing the huge impact this has on our local businesses and having so many people see this area for the first time," said Groover Bryant. "I am hopeful for a wonderful and safe event, and the plans for an even bigger and better event next year."
Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston said this is one of those events where the naysayers are quick to say it will never work from the initial inception.
"But here we are," he said. "Everything is in place."
Powerboat Super League President Sam Winer said Manatee County's inaugural event will serve as a model to bring more powerboat racing back to Florida.
A full schedule of events, as well as parking maps and details of the 4 a.m.-11 p.m. Green Bridge closure, are now available at bradentonarearegatta.com.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.