Becoming Bradenton: Culture, Community, and a Sense of Place

Riverwalk has created a new sense of place for Bradenton. Photo courtesty Realize Bradenton

Riverwalk has created a new sense of place for Bradenton. Photo courtesty Realize Bradenton

When was the last time you visited Bradenton? If you are lucky, then you may already own a piece of real estate in “The Friendly City”. If not, it’s about time you stepped foot where Hernando DeSoto did back in 1539.

A Deserving Destination

Bradenton is a Gulf Coast treasure and was recently spotlighted in Southern Business & Development magazine’s “Ten Wonderful Small Town Central Business Districts in the South.” But to anyone who’s enjoyed many of its wonderful amenities – from the parks, to the beaches, to the lively arts and music scene – this recognition is only verifying what the locals already know: Bradenton is the place to be.

With a population of over 50,000, Bradenton is unique to the Gulf Coast as it is set on the Gulf of Mexico and positioned along the banks of the Manatee River. Within the last year, a number of significant improvements have added palpable vitality to this easygoing waterfront city.

Riverwalk Revitalizes

The best riverfront cities in America – from Boston to Indianapolis, Chicago, and San Antonio – are attractive destinations because of their emphasis on placemaking.  By investing in dynamic public spaces along the waterfront, these cities have reinforced a community identity, sense of place, and helped to revitalize the local economies.

Photo courtesy Realize Bradenton

Photo courtesy Realize Bradenton

Last year, Bradenton celebrated the grand opening of its own riverfront destination: Riverwalk – a $6.2 million park that connects downtown with the Manatee River. A one and a half mile walking path meanders along the waterfront where playgrounds, amphitheaters, a skatepark, kayak launch, beach volleyball, rowing venue, a tidal discovery zone, 19-slip day dock, and fishing piers entice visitors of all ages.

Realize Bradenton, together with the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority, shared the vision for developing Riverwalk. Together, they organize a number of annual events where thousands of visitors converge to experience exceptional food, atmosphere, and culture. In December 2012, they kicked off the inaugural Bradenton Blues Festival along Riverwalk, where the turnout of music fans more than doubled their expectations.

New Manatee Performing Arts Center

The new Manatee Performing Arts Center prepping the stage for Miss Saigon. Photo courtesy Manatee Players

The new Manatee Performing Arts Center prepping the stage for Miss Saigon. Photo courtesy Manatee Players

Also set beside Riverwalk is the new home of the Manatee Players. This national award winning theater is one of the pillars of the Bradenton arts scene. After seven years of construction, their new $16 million state-of-the-art theater opened in March with Miss Saigon which played to sold-out audiences. The theater now includes expanded programming with the introduction of a second stage, the Bradenton Kiwanis Studio Theatre.

Village of the Arts

Amidst all of the new riverfront accomplishments, the Village of the Arts, continues to enrich the city’s cultural experience. This lively neighborhood is Florida’s largest art community consisting of 42 acres where artists live and work. Dozens of businesses spur creativity and innovation in this area just south of downtown. Visitors can enjoy approximately 30 art galleries, two independent books stores, three cafes/restaurants, and several arts-related retail establishments.

A Renewed Sense of Place

As a result of all these improvements, the collective community pride has been noticeably deepened. What’s more, these enhancements are serving as a vital economic stimulus helping to foster more growth and development.   

People are equally excited and vocal about the city’s heightened character.  Realize Bradenton shared a quote from a former resident who is looking to return to his hometown:

“There appears to be vibrancy in the city now that did not exist for me there as a child growing up. There’s this sense of committed community…you know…one where a community makes the initiative to be a community. I could sense it when I was home for my Grandmother’s funeral. I can feel it in the writings that I am reading about the area.  It has all enriched and expanded my heart with such satisfaction and amazement.”

Photo courtesy Realize Bradenton

Photo courtesy Realize Bradenton

Are you excited about the changes in Bradenton? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

  • User Gravatar brandon scott
    July 17th, 2013

    I love this beautiful city and I enjoyed your blog very much so.

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