BRADENTON — As Bradenton continues to etch out plans for a vibrant downtown setting to attract residents, businesses and tourists alike, University of South Florida graduate students took a stab Wednesday at what the future could look like for the city’s Riverwalk.
Their vision? Shaded walking paths that are lighted at night, a skateboard park, a covered fishing pier, kayak/rowing zones and a boat dock, for starters. Their ideas might be integrated into the city’s $2 million Riverwalk enhancement project, which is set to break ground Dec. 6. The project is hoped to not only make downtown more pedestrian-friendly and enjoyable, but help with continued efforts to stimulate downtown’s economy.
“What we have is an unique opportunity to take the city of Bradenton and capitalize on the riverfront that we have,” Dale Weidermiller, project administrator for Bradenton Downtown Development Authority’s Riverwalk and Artisan Avenue projects, said to the crowd that filled Mattison’s Riverside’s ballroom for the presentations.
Eleven students of USF’s Graduate School of Architecture and Community Design gave three group presentations, which included a look at what other communities — such as Toronto and Boston — have done to revitalize their waterfronts.
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The students incorporated some of the same elements, while tackling problems with the current mile and a half Riverwalk — namely the heat and safety concerns.
In their designs, the students employed contemporary-looking canopies to cover walking paths, piers and benches to address the Florida heat.
As for safety, they proposed walking paths that would be lighted at night. The first group suggested LED lighting for the edges of sidewalks, the underpass and a pier area where people can engage with the water.
Group member Dominic Furlano, 25, wanted to give the underpass a “San Antonio feel” compete with a bistro cafe to make it more inviting, referring to the Texas city’s famed River Walk.
The second group, which included Bradenton native David Alderman, proposed a wading area for children, a rest area and a bike rental station, among other elements. The third group introduced the idea of a half circle wall filled with city history, plus a long, elaborate sculpture that would serve as a shady rest area, exercise area and play area all in one.
Then there was the skate park. Two of the groups placed it near the DeSoto bridge. “It would turn heads and would probably make you notice the river,” said Furlano.
Other elements the students presented: a dog park; estuaries that would attract bird and fish life; a garden with fruits and vegetables; a boat dock; kayak/rowing station; and water taxi station.
Wednesday’s presentations were a collaboration between the DDA, Realize Bradenton and the university. The five-week class project was lead by Shannon Bassett, USF assistant professor of architecture. The event attracted a crowd of government officials, including Mayor Wayne Poston, local architects, various nonprofit agencies, cultural leaders and a couple of skateboard enthusiasts.
Overall, the audience responses were positive, though some voiced the need to incorporate new local businesses, such as a tiki bar, along the waterfront. Others were concerned about parking, while other guests pointed out how the still unfinished Manatee Players venue would add to the cultural design if support could be raised to finish it.
Weidemiller’s favorite concept from the students: an emphasis on shade.
He said the next step in the design process will be information gathering sessions for the public that will be held in mid-to-late July. Two conceptual plans will be proposed to the DDA in the fall.
Mike Kennedy, executive director of the DDA, can’t wait to see the final vision.
“This will be a project that defines downtown for decades,” Kennedy said.
January Holmes, features writer, can be reached at 745-7057. Follow her on Twitter at @accentbradenton.