In the past four years, Realize Bradenton has accomplished much for this community, spreading the city's fame and fortune through numerous events, strategic marketing and public engagement. The nonprofit's new retrospective booklet recounts those achievements. And they are well worth celebrating.
But credit engaged residents, too. Some 1,500 people from business, arts, education, tourism and government joined hands for almost a year beginning in April 2008 in the cultural planning process that gave birth to Realize Bradenton.
The organization's mission -- to strengthen the social, cultural and physical assets in the area -- has proven successful. The principle behind that came from a recommendation by the Bradenton Cultural and Business Alliance and the Knight Foundation to link downtown revitalization and cultural development to boost our economy and quality of life.
The fledging organization converted to a nonprofit in 2010 to launch the vision alongside the city of Bradenton, the Downtown Development Authority and various community partners.
Regarding special events, Realize Bradenton states one of the key motivations: "Placemaking enlivens public spaces to create memorable experiences and a savvy buzz to complement printed marketing material and online promotions."
One of the most popular events bears witness to the mission: The Bradenton Blues Festival, held in December at our glorious Riverwalk, drew people from 30 states and three foreign countries. The nonprofit reports that Floridians from 108 Zip codes attended.
How's that for powerful marketing and an economic shot in the arm? That was but one of the more than 75 events that attracted 100,000 people to downtown, generating an estimated $2.8 million in annual economic impact.
Speaking of Riverwalk, Realize Bradenton played a pivotal role in the citizen engagement process that led to the design.
One of Realize Bradenton's honors came last year from the Florida chapter of the American Planning Association -- winning Outstanding Public Interest Group of the Year. Another vital program is the organization's leadership in the Village of the Arts Tapestry Project, another citizen visioning effort that led to a detailed multiyear plan to improve Florida's largest artist colony and attract more business and visitors.
Realize Bradenton is the envy of other communities. Here's just one testament:
"Realize Bradenton is the kind of community development organization that we all wish we had in our communities." That comes courtesy of Kathie Ebaugh, the former principal planner for Lee County's Department of Community Development.
The past four years have been a watershed for Bradenton thanks to an organization building the city's reputation as a great place to live, work and play. We look forward to much more success from Realize Bradenton.