Downtown Bradenton’s latest major project breaks ground

Sure, officials posed for the obligatory pictures holding shovels at Tuesday’s groundbreaking of the South Florida Museum’s Mosaic Backyard Universe, but about a dozen young kids got to do the actual digging.

With smaller shovels for smaller hands, the kids made short work of the dirt pile and it was hard to get them to stop. It was an appropriate way to celebrate downtown Bradenton’s latest project getting underway considering the new addition is devoted to educating area youth in a new and exciting interactive way to engage the world around them.

Pre-schoolers help as the South Florida Museum officially breaks ground on the first phase of a $12 million expansion on Tuesday. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

The goal was to reach $12 million for expansion projects to the South Florida Museum, but board of trustees member William Blalock said, “I’m proud to announce we’ve reached $14.6 million.”

The first phase of construction marks the next major change in downtown Bradenton’s ongoing transformation, but it certainly isn’t the last. The $17 million Spring Hill Suites is rising quickly in the 100 block of Old Main Street, the $4.5 million renovation and expansion of Twin Dolphin Marina is set to begin and final designs for the new City Centre parking garage should be made public “within days,” according to Ward 2 Councilman Gene Brown.

Blalock said the museum’s expansion is a key component as an overall economic driver in downtown Bradenton’s changing landscape.

“I’m particularly proud of downtown Bradenton,” he said. “We are moving forward to create more opportunities for businesses and visitors alike.”

Work also continues on a major downtown overhaul in the ongoing design phase of a streetscaping project and plans will move quickly for the eastward expansion of the Riverwalk. The historic Mineral Springs Park will double in size as part of the process and much more will take place in the coming year.

“This is an exciting time for Bradenton and Manatee County,” said U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key. “It’s incredible what we’re doing with the waterfront here.”

Buchanan praised Tuesday’s groundbreaking, saying the museum’s project is “going to be amazing, world class.”

The Mosaic Backyard Universe will offer a unique educational experience in both the indoor and outdoor setting. Jeanie Kirkpatrick, president of the board of trustees, said the transformation “will help connect our museum visitors to the world around them like never before and offer them the opportunity to explore the universe like they never imagined possible.”

Jeanie Kirkpatrick, the president of the board of trustees, speaks as the South Florida Museum officially breaks ground on the first phase of a $12 million expansion on Tuesday. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

Kirkpatrick said the museum will be a proud anchor of the Riverwalk and “a very unique and important element for Bradenton’s reinvigorated downtown.”

Museum CEO Brynne Anne Besio said the vision began about five years ago and “This has been a labor of love for so many people and it’s so meaningful. We do know a child’s success begins early so we have to start early in educating our children. We owe it to our kids to invest in their future. This is huge. We are adding space that allows us to engage in learning and connecting with the world around them.”

Provost and COO Jeff Rodgers said the new addition is the next evolution in education.

“We’ve learned a lot over the last seven decades about how children learn,” Rodgers said. “We need to create spaces where kids can interact with rocks, plants and bugs, a place where they can explore the world around them. This is designed to be a microcosm of the natural world, and an ever changing world. Every visit will be a unique learning experience.”