With the likelihood of a new city parking garage in Bradenton’s future, city officials are turning their attention to improving the walkability of Old Main Street and the surrounding downtown streets.
Possibilities so far include widening Old Main Street’s sidewalks and reducing the number of parking spaces to provide more walking room and space for business owners. Other suggestions include a new landscaping plan and better overhead lighting.
Downtown business owner Mike Carter said maintenance of Old Main Street has fallen off in recent years.
“Old Main Street was the recipient of substantial improvements years ago and it had a huge impact,” said Carter. “We have an opportunity with all this new construction about to take place to look at a street-scape plan. We always talk about how to connect downtown to the Village of the Arts. We should look at a firm that specializes in urban street-scape design and get a new master plan for those improvements because Old Main Street is looking old and tired.”
City administrator Carl Callahan said it’s “easily doable,” noting there has been a lot of turnover in public works as of late and his first priority is to get the maintenance crews responsible for downtown and Riverwalk “to up their game. There are things we need to be doing and should expect for a manicured look even before we consider changing things.”
Callahan said the city will likely go forward with a request for qualification,s inviting those interested to present ideas on how to improve the area. He said he would first like to hold public meetings to garner public input.
“We want to have landscape architects look at it because it’s been a lot of years,” he said. “There is a lot to consider other than just landscaping. If we do get a garage, then we have to ask if we want to condense parking downtown to give more space to businesses by widening the sidewalks.”
Callahan said some of those improvement should extend to the bordering streets, particularly 13th Street West.
“That street is one of our widest streets and there are opportunities there,” said Callahan.
The concern that Old Main Street is looking “old and tired,” were also raised about Riverwalk. Ward 3 Councilman Patrick Roff said the park was planned for a certain amount of use, “and we’ve found that the use exceeds anything we imagined. It just doesn’t slow down.”
Callahan said it’s another area where maintenance crews and third-party contractors need to be “stepping that up a notch. We don’t want it to get tired before its time and it needs to be looked at with a more critical eye. There’s the little stuff that you expect to get done.”
Callahan said the city needs to take a closer look at whether it’s best to have random crews taking care of Riverwalk or whether the city needs to devote a full-time crew.
“This is one of those rare cases where you may not want to look at how much money you want to spend rather than ask what it is you want to do,” he said. “But we also have to look at scheduling more down time between events and give the park a chance to recover from those events.”