Officials: Changes on Old Main Street seen as healthy new chapter

BRADENTON -- Old Main Street is changing, and its commercial ferment may signal a new chapter in downtown Bradenton’s economic development.

Fisherman Joe’s, a restaurant located in downtown Bradenton for years, lost its lease and will be moving May 1; its landlord has said he has already signed a lease with a new tenant.

The Blue Parrot, a clothing store, is moving to a new location, to be replaced by Cork’s Cigar Bar, now across the street.

New businesses are on the drawing board: The Distillery, a lounge that will also sell food, is slated to open in the next few months; and McCabe’s, an Irish pub, is hoping to be ready for a St. Patrick’s Day opening.

What’s going on?

“I like what I see,” said Thomas Stynes, the owner of McCabe’s, who Wednesday was renovating the building at 302 Main St. in hopes of opening his pub around March 17.

“It seems to be developing and growing in the right direction,” he said. “A lot of things are going on.”

Attorney James M. Wallace, who has operated a legal practice for 52 years at 420 Old Main St. W., recalled how easy it was only 10 years ago to find a parking place at night.

“Now, at night, you can’t find a parking space because there’s so many people who are downtown,” he chuckled.

Bradenton city officials are thrilled at the activity.

“There’s a synergy really starting,” said Tim Polk, Bradenton director of planning and community development. “It’s positive.”

Bradenton has, over time, made changes in its master plan and comp plan to foster a rebirth of its downtown.

“The whole idea is to get more retail and to get mom-and-pop retail,” Polk explained Wednesday. “You’re seeing mom-and-pop retail, maybe doing some market correction on that.”

“We’re starting to see a lot of activity,” he added.

Officials have tried to encourage urban features that compliment what planners call the “live-work-play” lifestyle -- allowing people to live, work and play all in the same general neighborhood.

Shop owners living upstairs from their businesses, for example.

“They’re already starting to live upstairs; their employees live upstairs,” said Polk. “We already have live-work-play.”

One engine driving change along Old Main is incentive money from the Downtown Development Authority, which has been helping landlords spruce up the exterior of their buildings.

Recently, the authority also offered the owner of a successful cafe $250,000 to move downtown to a site in the SunTrust Bank Building.

She eventually turned down the money, but since then, the authority has been fielding calls from others who want to apply for incentive money to open downtown.

Bob Bartz, president of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, which is housed near Old Main, said nice restaurants can help attract crowds to places like Old Main Street.

He cited Mattison’s Riverside as an example. The award-winning restaurant opened in 2006 at the north end of Old Main Street.

“It’s made a big difference,” Bartz said. “It meets a big need lacking in the community.”

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.

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