PALMETTO -- In a 3-2 vote Monday night, the Palmetto City Commission approved the newly named 2016 Riverwalk Regatta with a conceptual approval based on promises that have been made to enliven the north side of the Manatee River for the Feb. 6 event.
While it was a "conceptual approval," city attorney Mark Barnebey acknowledged that the approval of promoter Integrated Strategic Marketing USA beginning to invest tens of thousands of dollars to secure entertainment "would be difficult" to back out of once approved.
With that understanding, the city's two most vocal opponents of the regatta moving forward without ironclad guarantees, at large commissioner Tamara Cornwell and Ward 2 commissioner Tambra Varnadore voted "Nay." Ward 1 commissioner Harold Smith and at large commissioner Jonathan Davis voted to approve. The swing vote was Ward 3 commissioner Brian Williams, who hesitated before casting his "Aye" vote.
"All the businesses I've talked to said they are willing to go again for a second year. That's why I'm supporting this," he said, noting he would not even consider a third regatta if promises that Palmetto will benefit from the event do not come to fruition.
Varnadore said while she could not support the event with so many uncertainties remaining, "I hope it's a whopping success, but I have no confidence that will happen."
Prior to the vote, Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant said the city needed to make a decision in order for ISM president Mike Fetchko to move forward with the permitting process to close the Green Bridge and to begin to secure entertainment contracts.
Bryant said Fetchko's promises to bring more events to Palmetto and secure a Christian music concert as well as the DeSoto Historical Society's partnership was enough to improve her confidence.
City officials also are acknowledging some of its own mistakes during the regatta. Public Works Director Allen Tusing said predictions of a traffic nightmare were overdone to the point where they did "too good of a job pushing everybody away from Palmetto" with signs directing people coming from the Tampa Bay area to continue on toward Bradenton.
"We are already redesigning our signs so we aren't pushing people out of the city," he said. "We are going to try and bring everybody in."
Tusing said the traffic nightmare that never developed also kept residents away from going to the businesses they normally would frequent, but businesses needed to be more involved in helping themselves.
"Businesses can use this event to promote their businesses," said Tusing. "We can't do everything for them. They can use it as a tool."
The approved motion read the city, "would in good faith" approve the event based on the promises that were made, including Fetchko's 12-point plan to improve Palmetto's participation. Promises include moving the HydroCross jet ski races to Palmetto, the DeSoto youth fishing tournament, the Kids Zone, expanding the Formula 2 racetrack, a Saturday Christian concert at Sutton Park and rotating other shows like XPogo stunts back and forth from Palmetto to Bradenton.
Palmetto officials also did not support the sale of alcohol.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter@urbanmark2014.