MANATEE -- The Riverwalk is ready to rumble.
Welcome to today's Bradenton Area Riverwalk Regatta, being billed as the largest, free public event in the history of Manatee County.
It's been a massive work in progress with details going down to the wire, but everything is in place for a spectacular show, said Integrated Strategic Marketing president Mike Fetchko, the primary organizer of the event's entertainment side.
"Things have shaped up to the perfect conditions, and that represents to me how this community has come together," Fetchko said Friday. "All of our performers are in town. Jefferson Starship landed Thursday night and they are thrilled to be here. All of the operations have come together beautifully, and we are ready to put on a spectacular show for everybody."
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Arrive as early as possible to enjoy a full day of fun. Signs outlining the various event locations and show times are in place, "So bring your lawn chairs and come early."
The parking situation? It is what it is, Fetchko said, and will likely be better-addressed next year.
The Green Bridge is closed until 11 p.m. for spectator viewing and to provide a walkable access from
Bradenton to Palmetto. No bikes or skateboards will be allowed on the bridge or on event grounds, including the Riverwalk.
Dogs will be allowed, as long as they are properly leashed.
Coolers also are allowed, but the regatta is an alcohol-free event and law enforcement will strictly enforce it. If libations are wanted, local merchants surrounding the event grounds on both sides of the river will be open for business. Fetchko said Budweiser is an event sponsor and will have beer sales available off site.
The one exception to alcohol on the event grounds will be through Budweiser, which will offer an identifiable event cup. Each adult will be limited to one cup at a time.
"We want to be responsible," said Fetchko. "We are promoting this as a family event. People also need to know that you can't come here trying to sell stuff. All of our vendors have been permitted, so if someone thinks they can come here and sell stuff, it's not going to happen. This is all about people being able to move freely about and enjoy the festivities."
There will be an extensive law enforcement presence at the event to ensure safety and security. Fetchko said additional temporary lighting is being installed to ensure people can leave the fireworks finale safely after dark to either go home or stop by Old Main Street at 8 p.m. for an awards ceremony.
"There will be nine winners from the various events, and because we have gone to such extreme measures with the environmental permitting, it's not ironic that the trophies are manatees," he said. "The trophies represent the manatees we want to protect, the Manatee River and Manatee County.
"It sounds corny, but it's not," Fetchko said. "We've embraced these waters, Riverwalk and the people of this community so when we were deciding on what kind of trophy to do, we said let's hold these manatees up high as a symbol of this signature event."
One slight change to the schedule is the Zambelli International fireworks show. It was scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. but now will kick off at 6:40 p.m. Fetchko said there is an art to putting together a show of this scale, and working with when the sun is setting is one of those details.
A state-of-the-art sound system is in place from Riverwalk, across the Green Bridge and to Palmetto to ensure viewers get the full impact of the choreographed show set to patriotic music.
Vendors and equipment handlers for the various events began to trickle in just before noon on Friday. The pace of setting up for a major event was casual with organizers showing no signs of stress as work continued quietly and with professional dignity.
While this is Bradenton's first regatta, it's not the first one for those involved who put on the annual Fourth of July regatta in Pittsburgh that draws about 750,000 people.
But the Three Rivers area can accommodate that kind of crowd, and the biggest unknown for the Bradenton regatta is just how many people will come and what will it be like trying to get to the event.
Riverwalk opens to world
Can't make the event? Bradenton.com will have updates, photos and videos throughout the day. And there will be a seven-hour live web stream of all the activities on the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau website at bradentongulfislands.com or bradentonarearegatta.com.
Bright House Sports also will be producing a 30-minute special on the event that will air about 10 days later, which will then be syndicated and distributed to other sports channels in the country and possibly in Europe.
Bus schedule changes
Manatee County and Sarasota County Area Transit has announced a change in service due to the regatta. According to a press release. Route 99 buses serving the business U.S. 41 corridor will end northbound service at the downtown Bradenton station. Due to the closure of the Green Bridge, Route 99 between Bradenton and Palmetto will be suspended.
To accommodate passengers needing to make a connection between Palmetto and Bradenton, MCAT will run shuttles via the U.S. 301/U.S. 41 DeSoto Bridge. For more information, call 727-747-8621. Regular service will resume after the regatta.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.