Bradenton gains wow factor with Riverwalk's debut

The long-awaited day finally arrived. This week's grand opening of Riverwalk marks the fulfillment of a vision from decades ago.

Thursday's dedication ceremonies came off superbly, highlighted by the ribbon cutting of an incredibly long banner -- 800 feet, to be exact, held by hundreds of spectators alongside elected officials, community leaders and Realize Bradenton volunteers.

A large and appreciative crowd enjoyed the festivities -- many seated under a big-top pole tent to escape the brilliant sunshine and toasty temperatures. We figure the throng is indicative of the broad community support for this $6.2 million project, anticipated to become a pivotal player in downtown's revitalization.

Even before the celebration at Rossi Park's new pavilion and throughout the proceedings, toddlers and youngsters frolicked in the new Splash Pad water feature. Kids spun in a circle while inside one of the funky pieces of playground equipment in Family Fun Zone. Skateboarders showed off their skills in the Skate Park.

And adults strolled up and down the riverfront marveling at the various improvements to the 1.5-mile-long Riverwalk, which stretches from the Green Bridge to Manatee Memorial Hospital right on the Manatee River.

With a sand volleyball court, fishing pier, day dock, kayak launch, tidal zone, botanical walkway and outdoor living rooms for lounging, Riverwalk truly has something for everyone. A packed schedule of environmental and history talks, art tours, fitness classes, rowing regattas, theater performances, concerts and extra special events -- with ArtSlam and the Bradenton Blues Festival coming right up -- the park promises to fulfill its goal of pleasing a lot of people.

Television crews from Tampa to Sarasota covered the ceremonies, knowing full well that Riverwalk is a special place and a regional attraction -- far more than just a downtown Bradenton park.

Congratulations to everyone who played a role in the development of this gorgeous addition to our Friendly City, destined to become even friendlier thanks to Riverwalk.

Intense interest in park

By 9 a.m. Friday, four of the top six items on www.bradenton.com focused on Riverwalk -- three photograph galleries and a report on the grand opening. Those four amassed some 20,000 page views, by far the most popular features on the site.

That affirms our belief in strong community support for Riverwalk.

Quote of the week

On Riverwalk, of course: "When you hear all these potential starts and stops and the economy killing things, you just keep trying to put the pieces together. It's been on the mayor's bucket list, the City Council's bucket list and the bucket lists of countless others. And now it has come to fruition." -- Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Dave Gustafson