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Artisan Avenue a big hit with local officials


BRADENTON - Cheers from Manatee county commissioners and Bradenton's elected officials greeted the concept of a pedestrian corridor from Manatee River to the Village of the Arts.

An artist's conception of Fourth Avenue
A proposed concept view of Fourth Avenue from the presentation on Artisan Avenue.

"We're in the business of dreaming," architect Rick Fawley told the workshop on May 12. "We need a link with the village to the waterfront to create a cohesive critical mass of activities, restaurants, stores and festivals. And this is not any more far-fetched than when the idea of the Village of the Arts was first proposed."

Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston is wild about the Village.

"This is a fabulous place. The Village really enriches the community," Poston said.

Thanks to the support of scores of artists and others, and with Poston's insistence and persistence, Art Magazine selected Bradenton as one of the 10 friendliest cities in the United States.

"Now we have the backing of the city and county to move ahead and get private business to invest in property downtown to make the Artisan Avenue a reality," Poston said.

Joining the chorus of supporters was local builder Mike Carter, who expanded on the plan to create the half-mile walkway along 11th Street West, meandering through passageways and courtyards. "We may not live to see the final construction of this pedestrian way, but we must begin," Carter said.. "We can convert bland parking lots into a colorful plaza, increasing the incentive for retail stores to buy into this idea."

Several members asked what the cost would be. "We need to map and identify the properties, then do a preliminary plan and come back to you with the cost," Carter replied.

The proposed Carter Courtyard
A view of the proposed Carter courtyard.

County Commissioner Joe McClash suggested undeveloped facilities such as the vacant old jail, which could be transformed into an office building, and revitalizing a blighted 10th Street West, now overshadowed by the deteriorating "Pink Palace," which is presently under threat of foreclosure.

Images of the proposed corridor were projected, with sculptures and courtyards highlighting the redevelopment plans of retail, office and tourist destinations that generated even more ideas from the participants.

"We're ready for Bradenton Beach to have a water taxi from the Island to downtown," said County Commissioner John Chappie.

City Councilman Gene Gallo revisited the cost issue of the walkway. "What part is government going to play in the funding of this," asked Gallo. "All of this might be nice, but can we afford it?"

The most vocal opponent of Artisan Avenue is former Bradenton Mayor Bill Evers, who recently decried it as a "ludicrous scheme" benefiting a few property owners, "but not the taxpayers, who would be out millions and millions and millions of dollars and probably wouldn't set foot on Artisan Way in their lifetime."

That dissenting opinion did not cut into Commissioner Carol Whitmore's enthusiasm for the proposal.

"It's a great concept to bring the public to downtown," she said. "The only problem, it takes the government so long to do anything. Don't wait. Do it piecemeal. Bradenton needs to make a true downtown."

Commissioner Ron Getman echoed the concerns about not acting now. "Let's do what we can, now," he said. "I'm really excited about private sources taking the lead in this project."

Poston expressed his city's zeal for art as a catalyst for change. "Finally after five years, here's what we've done for our town," Poston said. "More people are circulating downtown, and now we have a real opportunity to realize what a great place to live in. And this pathway is the key to draw people who are the synergy for this concept. Go forth and prosper."

County Administrator Ed Hunzeker, who worked on the concept with Poston, Fawley and Bradenton attorney Cliff Walters, praised the plan, and urged listeners to begin acting on their ideas, now. "It has lot of merit," Hunzeker said. "It will attract new businesses into the area."

Fawley urged participants to work towards their dream, but be aware of the time it might take to have them realized. "I'm patient in the geological terms," he said.


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