It's official: Bradenton Riverwalk Regatta will return in 2016

MANATEE -- A happy crowd of somewhere between 75,000 and 100,000 people Saturday ensured the goal to make the Bradenton Area Riverwalk Regatta an annual event has been achieved.

"It will absolutely be back next year," Bradenton Downtown Development Authority Executive Director David Gustafson said Monday.

Early estimates put the crowd at more than 50,000, but Gustafson said those numbers don't take into account the steady stream of people leaving and arriving throughout the day.

"We estimated 30,000 on the Green Bridge alone and Riverwalk was just as thick, if not thicker, with people," said Gustafson. "Just on the Bradenton side, people were streaming in and out all day and I heard from the volunteers at the parking lots that it was just a constant turnaround of people coming and going. I feel very confident in saying between 75,000 and 100,000, but I'm sure it was closer to 100,000."

The event cost more than $400,000, with the bulk coming from sponsorships to pay for various events. Firkins Automotive, Manatee Memorial Hospital and Sysco were the three primary sponsors with multiple smaller sponsors such as Heli Helicopters, Florida Power & Light, Erickson Marine, Bright House and Coca-Cola.

With the regatta a major success, sponsorships for next year's event will likely be easier to get. Gustafson said a lot of people didn't

believe the regatta would prove successful, so not all costs were covered.

Gustafson said the DDA would be responsible for those costs, and while he didn't get into specifics, he has previously told the Bradenton Herald they were about $15,000 short in sponsorship funds before the regatta.

Costs of public works and law enforcement manpower supplied by Bradenton and Palmetto will have to be paid, but a portion of the food vendor sales will to return to the cities to cover the costs.

Palmetto City Clerk Jim Freeman said it's too early to know those costs. The city will address costs, reimbursements and evaluate the regatta at its next meeting March 2, "or we may even call a special workshop to do that."

Gustafson said he doesn't know Bradenton's expense totals yet, but estimates ranged up to $15,000 prior to the event. The good news is successful food sales should cover expenses for both cities.

"Those numbers are still coming in, but I know they sold well over $100,000 in food and beverage and honestly, it will probably be closer to $200,000 by the time we get all the numbers," he said. "I was told by the vendors that they have never had a busier day at any other function in their history, and they are already planning to double their footprint and amount of staff next year."

To shorten the lines at food stands, Gustafson said one goal will be to have more vendors. Organizers are meeting Tuesday to conduct a post-event regatta evaluation.

"We want to have it better," said Gustafson. "We want more bathrooms, double the size of vendors, we want that Friday concert in Palmetto and to have more things on their side of the river, and we definitely want to set up a shuttle system next year. We want more businesses to open up their parking lots to let more charities use it as a fundraiser. There are definitely things we learned that will help us kick it up a notch next year."

The event was predicted to create up to a $10 million economic impact. Gustafson said those figures would likely be available within the next five weeks but in the meantime: "I'm hearing from businesses that said their sales were up 60 percent compared to this same day last year."

Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.

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