MANATEE -- The inaugural Bradenton Area Riverwalk Regatta was classified as smooth sailing during Tuesday's after-action report featuring some 40 members of municipal, law enforcement, emergency medical services and event personnel.
There were few law enforcement or medical emergency concerns, and even fewer traffic issues, according to officials. The greatest congestion involved people on Riverwalk and that's a good thing considering the event drew somewhere between 75,000 and 100,000 people, as organizers had projected.
Lessons were learned.
Adding bathrooms and food vendors, creating a bike lane across the Green Bridge and trying to better position boats carrying race fans were among the top items discussed. No solutions were offered, but officials acknowledge those details will need attention when organizing next year's event.
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Easing congestion on Riverwalk and enhancing the sound system also were top priorities for Integrated Strategic Marketing President Mike Fetchko, the entertainment organizer.
"If Riverwalk had a voice, she would say help me to find, for one day, new temporary walkways," he said, specifically referring to a couple of pinch points on Riverwalk near the railroad tracks where the worst congestion occurred. Riverwalk narrows at those tracks and Fetchko suggested a temporary mulch path leading from the amphitheater toward the splash pad area to the main concert stage.
"The crowd was very good, but it takes time to teach a crowd how to negotiate a major event and now you have a major event," he said. "We need to look at Riverwalk and say: 'Here's what we need to do.' "
Ideas for improvement
The sound also needs improvement, Fetchko said, noting the system in place for announcements and music for the fireworks show did not carry as well as anticipated. Also, the concert main stage should have sounded better.
"Overall, I was happy, but I'll be happier when we get it right," Fetchko said.
Organizers tossed around other ideas such as allowing a beer tent next year, clearing the fishing pier much earlier for the fireworks show and creating shuttle service between parking lots and the main venue.
EMS personnel said they would prefer to have more staff in place in next year, including more personnel roaming the crowds with small medical kits. There were few medical issues but negotiating the crowd when necessary was a concern.
Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Elliott Falcione said an economic impact study is beginning. While officials have all said the event will take place next year, Falcione said: "We want to make sure city officials don't think we are getting out in front of them. We respect the government process ... but we want the cities to be out front of this."
Falcione said everyone involved, "managed the crowd like you've managed it for 15 years. You enhanced the word 'friendly' and made me proud as a resident. We've got something good here and let's build on it and make our elected officials proud."
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.