Sparkling Bradenton Area Convention Center looks promising as economic driver

Boasting fresh interior and exterior improvements as well as new outdoor options for receptions and a new name, the Bradenton Area Convention Center hosts a public open house on Wednesday to showcase this extensive makeover.

The 18-month project arrives none too soon, years after community and public leaders realized the aging building could no longer compete well for convention and event business -- even with a prime setting on the Manatee River in Palmetto, only a short drive from the St. Petersburg-Tampa market.

With this $6.5 million transformation -- paid solely through tourism revenues and not a nickle of ad valorem tax money -- Manatee County sits poised to capture a bigger piece of the event pie. This is yet another success story in the aggressive drive to boost the local economy alongside downtown Bradenton developments, the surging growth in the county's sports industry and the ever expanding Lakewood Ranch.

During a recent tour, Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, revealed that inspiration for some of the changes came out of a visit to Orlando resorts.

The striking renovations include convention hotel-style meeting rooms with chandeliers and wall sconces and carpeting that blend with the building's sand and earth tones. Stone veneer graces both indoor and outdoor walls.

Two of the grandest additions bring spark to the front of the structure, a pergola perfect for outdoor receptions and brick pavers, palm trees and planter boxes leading to the entry. This new curb appeal presents a fresh and inviting picture.

"There is no doubt we can attract a higher demographic here," Falcione said.

Besides marketing to the convention and corporate business, visitors bureau staff are working hard with music promoters to draw second-tier concerts with its arena seating capacity of around 3,700.

But the crowning achievement will be the successful courting of an on-site hotel, a highly desirable addition in demand by conventions. A working group is currently composing a request for proposals to market to hotel companies, with hopes of extending that in January.

The new name rebrands the center with the more widely known "Bradenton" rather than "Manatee County." The largest city between St. Petersburg and Sarasota shows up on maps and GPS monitors while the county is far more difficult to discern.

The community is invited to Wednesday's open house, from 8-11 a.m. To attend, RSVP by calling 941-722-3244, ext. 0.

You'll get an upclose and personal look at a vital component in Manatee County's push for a more prosperous future.