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Proposed artwalk would link river with Village of the Arts

BRADENTON — It doesn’t exist on any map, but downtown Bradenton soon could have an Artisan Avenue.

As envisioned by a small group of key players, the proposed pedestrian walkway would allow people to walk, shop and dine along a half-mile corridor between the Manatee River and the Village of the Arts. It would generally follow 11th Street West, and use alleyways, parking lots, service drives and walkways where the road doesn’t exist.

“It would serve as the main pedestrian gateway through downtown, something that downtown doesn’t have now,” said Bradenton architect Richard Fawley, who presented the proposal to local elected officials Wednesday. “The whole idea is that, along this artisan avenue, there would be gathering places with opportunities for commercial and retail shops.”

Fawley worked on the concept with Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston, County Administrator Ed Hunzeker, local builder Mike Carter and Bradenton attorney Cliff Walters.

It calls for a mix of new parking garages, redeveloped commercial/residential structures and courtyards. It also calls for relocating the Bradenton Police Department to another, unspecified location

From the river, pedestrians would walk through a retail area surrounding Bradenton City Centre. The building’s south parking lot would be transformed into a “Tallant Square” similar to grand piazzas in Europe.

After crossing Third Avenue West, pedestrians would go through a commercial area where SunTrust Bank’s drive-through lanes exist now. They then would pass a new county parking garage immediately north of the existing one, which would be refurbished to match the appearance of Bradenton’s new downtown parking garage.

The existing county garage also would have a retail arcade where there now is a service drive and parking area for county commissioners and those with disabled tags.

The parking lot behind the Lost Kangaroo Pub would be turned into a courtyard, with a stage for musical and other performances. Carter, who owns the land, has agreed to the idea, Fawley said.

Pedestrians then would cross Manatee Avenue West at a lighted crosswalk between the county administration building and the new judicial center, then use a covered walkway to stroll through a sculpture garden between the old and new courthouses. A proposed square on the old courthouse’s Manatee Avenue side would be completed after a Manatee County Area Transit station is moved.

The walkway would continue southward on 11th Street West, which would be closed to vehicular traffic between Sixth and Eighth avenues west and turned into a promenade featuring shopping, fountains and pavilions.

It then would follow 11th Street to reach the Village of the Arts south of Ninth Avenue West/Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

“It’s a natural corridor,” Fawley said. “It really was the logical place to go.”

Several buildings in the area, including the Verizon switching center and Merrill Lynch building, are proposed to be redeveloped into a mix of retail and residential.

The idea’s originators said they didn’t have a cost estimate, but said they’ve gotten the support of nearly all property owners along the proposed walkway.

Fawley said he and others have been talking about the concept for several years, but didn’t get far until the Downtown by Design, Realize Bradenton and Bradenton/Palmetto Downtown Mobility studies were done. The proposed walkway fits well with those studies’ recommendations and goals, he said.

Several officials said they liked the concept.

“I thought that was very creative,” said Manatee County school board member Harry Kinnan, who noted his church would be along the walkway. “It’s terrific.”

Fawley said he and others now plan to start developing action plan to implement the concept, which still would need the blessing of the county and city, as well as various property owners.

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