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Future of Gulf Drive corridor reviewed

BRADENTON BEACH — Improvements and changes along the 2.8-mile stretch of Gulf Drive through this tiny city on the southern end of Anna Maria Island were discussed Friday during a planning session.

About 25 people showed up at city hall to offer their input to the Gulf Drive Scenic Highway master plan.

The group of elected officials, business owners and residents went through several exercises to get their ideas of what types of improvements should be made to the natural, historical and cultural aspects of the main north-south highway that hugs the Gulf of Mexico beaches.

“This is a very family oriented beach environment,” said James Taylor, a professional planner with IBI Group of Sarasota hired to facilitate the sessions and plan development. “The participants have been very enthusiastic and value their scenic corridor designation.”

The city applied to the Florida Department of Transportation for the Scenic Highway Program in 2000 and is required to update the master plan every five years to maintain eligibility for grant funding.

Taylor said the benefits of the designation have been to heighten the awareness of the asset and attract tourists, who fuel the economy.

Many of the participants in Friday’s workshop highlighted the accomplishments of the city over the last eight years toward meeting the goals of the original plan.

The construction of a multipurpose path, several pedestrian crosswalks across the busy highway, and installation of a sidewalk along most of the road were accomplishments mentioned.

The group also identified the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to the corridor during one of the planning exercises.

The group saw the old Florida character of the community as a strength, along with the newly rehabilitated City Pier.

The revitalization of Bridge Street over the time the Scenic Highway master plan was established also was highlighted as a favorable aspect for the city.

Threats to maintaining the corridor as an asset are proliferation of exotic plants, vacant lots, the lack of parking, heavy traffic and poor signs for pedestrian and bike paths.

The chance to illustrate their thoughts for opportunities and threats on large aerial maps animated the crowd.

There were suggestions for landscaped gateways to the city, preservation of historic buildings and sites, a park-and-ride program, and more public art as opportunities for improvements.

The loss of funding and apathy of the some in the community were a couple of the threats listed.

Another facilitator, Sue Thompson, a landscape architect with IBI, said they will consolidate these ideas and write a draft plan.

The public will be asked for more input before the final plan is sent to FDOT, she said.