The inaugural Bradenton Area Riverwalk Regatta proved to be the outstanding spectacle of sports, music and more that fulfilled organizers' hopes and dreams. The estimated 100,000 spectators stretched across the Green Bridge from Palmetto to Bradenton and along Riverwalk couldn't help but ooh and aah over all the action and festivities.
Under Saturday's blue skies and warm temperatures, conditions could not have been better. The race announcer kept marveling about the perfect weather.
With powerboat and jet ski races, personal watercraft and BMX stunt shows, and Jefferson Starship and Sam Woolf headlining the daylong concert series, it was impossible to take in everything.
The absolutely stupendous fireworks display -- choreographed impeccably from three barges on the Manatee River -- could not have been more stunning, an ideal conclusion to the day as night fell.
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No wonder Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston beamed all day into the night.
Manatee County's largest event in history -- free to boot -- came off with only a few minor glitches and no major incidents, a tribute to a fun-loving crowd and, of course, a rather large law enforcement presence.
Credit Bradenton's warm and lengthy relationship with sister city Pittsburgh for this event coup. That connection draws its strength from the Pirates spring training here and now the Bradenton Marauders minor league team.
The Steel City organizers of a massive Fourth of July Fourth in the Three Rivers brought a smaller version to the Friendly City -- to our delight and gratitude. Kudos to Integrated Marketing Strategy owner Mike Fetchko, the event organizer, and to Powerboat Super League President Sam Winer, whose Formula Two drivers flew across the Manatee River in thrilling races.
And cheers to Zambelli International Fireworks for an especially awesome display, the biggest in the region's history. Zambelli's an old hand at pyrotechnic spectacles, having put on shows for Super Bowls and presidential inaugurations.
Major props are also due to:
The cities of Bradenton and Palmetto and Manatee County, for overcoming hurdles and uniting in support of the regatta.
Dave Gustafson, executive director of the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority, for leading the way on logistics, and Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, for all his efforts.
The Sea to Shore Alliance, for the strong measures to protect marine wildlife, including manatees, sea turtles and dolphins. Jack "Buddy" Powell led the race course observation effort from a helicopter with other experts on marine mammals watching from the Green Bridge and some boats. This was vital to securing an environmental permit for the event.
To Heli Helicopters for donating the aircraft and to Dolphin Aviation for contributing the fuel.
To the many event sponsors -- Firkins Automotive, Manatee Memorial Hospital and Sysco being the three primary ones -- for providing the resources that paid the way for this, and to the many volunteers for devoting all their time and energy, especially the army of 300 from the DeSoto Historical Society and the service organizations.
To the Bradenton Public Works Department, for not only the deft maneuvering through the hordes to empty trash receptacle during the event but then marching in afterward and swiftly policing the grounds. Sunday morning, the place was cleared of just about all the junk, and families, joggers and strollers once again enjoyed a great time at Riverwalk and downtown.
As the conclusion of the regatta, Fetchko remarked: "We are ecstatic. ... What has made this a beautiful event is the way Bradenton, Palmetto and Manatee County embraced it and you can see the results of that."
That speaks well for the future of the Bradenton Area Riverwalk Regatta. Great news came Monday with a commitment by enthusiastic organizers for a 2016 event.