ArtCenter Manatee unveils plans for expansion. And for a new entry into downtown Bradenton

ArtCenter Manatee on Tuesday unveiled plans for not only a bigger, more modern facility but all for revamped gateway into downtown Bradenton.

No construction timeline has been set and fund raising efforts are ongoing, but center staff and board of directors presented renderings to the city council that showed a modern building at 209 Ninth St. W. and improvements to the city’s Green Bridge gateway.

The center will continue to operate as normal when construction eventually begins. A new building will be constructed just to the northeast of the existing location and once completed, the current facility will be torn down. In its place, a new open green space with a sculpture garden will front the intersection of Ninth Street West and Third Avenue West.

ArtCenter Manatee turns 81 years old this year and has been at its current location since 1955. Executive Director Carla Nierman said the city’s growing arts and culture atmosphere has created a stronger demand for additional space.

“We are strong and we are growing,” Nierman said. “It’s time to be forward thinking.”

The center offers multiple classes for adults and children, exhibitions, events, an artist’s market gift shop and a arts and healing program that focuses on helping adults with mild to moderate dementia and memory loss. It’s a program supported by Manatee Memorial Hospital.

Vernon DeSear, hospital vice president, said the program also helps those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. DeSear said efforts to grow the city’s vibrancy GO back several years.

“You have to go back to at least 2005 when we began to think about what we could do to bring our young people back,” DeSear said. “All of these things that are happening now are moving us forward and what better way to showcase coming into Bradenton with (South Florida Museum) on one side and now we have this beautiful structure that will be built on the other side.”

The South Florida Museum broke ground on its first phase of a $12 million expansion in January.

“I just want the community to feel the presence of the volunteer efforts and dreams everyone has had all these years,” DeSear said.

The ArtCenter has a long-term lease with the city of Bradenton. To make the expansion possible, the center needed more of the surrounding property, owned by Bradenton Riverfront Partners, which donated the land to make the project possible.

“It’s very clear that everybody wants to see downtown thrive,” Nierman said.

Board member and past president of the board Linda Enberg said she first moved to Bradenton 10 years ago to be close to the arts and culture environment that Sarasota was known for, and was pleasantly surprised to see Bradenton’s own rich arts and culture. And it continues to grow, she said.

“I realized quickly what a great fabric of culture there is in Bradenton and it has grown stronger in the last 10 years,” she said. “Having the ArtCenter in our own backyard was a special surprise. It’s a gem of this community and becoming the resource for visual arts in the greater Bradenton area.”

Mayor Wayne Poston said the top question asked by today’s generation when moving somewhere is about the community’s commitment to the arts.

“Everything we do is critical,” Poston said. “The design is critical, which is why when we build a building, we make it artistic. We make it beautiful. I think that is important.”