Regional Report

Photography by William S. Speer By Molly McCartney April 30, 2010

Incorporated in 1903, Bradenton has retained its small-town Southern charm over the decades, especially in its picturesque downtown along the Manatee River. The city contains 17 percent of Manatee County’s population and, with nearly 54,000 residents, is the second-largest municipality in the region after North Port.

Bradenton city limits stretch from the Anna Maria Island Bridge to I-75. While the northern boundary hugs the Manatee River, the southern border occasionally reaches as far south as Cortez Road. That means there’s a lot of residential diversity in Bradenton, from riverfront mansions to tiny Florida cottages to some urban blight.

Major employers Tropicana and Bealls call Bradenton home. But like many small cities in Florida, Bradenton has been struggling with high commercial vacancies and a need for more development downtown. The good news is that the city has received a Knight Foundation grant of $234,000 for a revitalization campaign called Realize Bradenton, which is infusing the city with new energy. And more money is on the way. In February the Knight Foundation announced that it will invest up to $2.5 million to foster an “informed, engaged” Bradenton over the next seven years.

Just the Facts

People, politics, business and schools

➧ Demographics

53,942 residents

47 percent male

53 percent female

23.8 percent over the

age of 65

78.5 percent white

14.3 percent African-American

13.4 percent Hispanic or Latino of any race

59.1 percent of population aged 16 or more is in the workforce (compared to 65.2 percent U.S.)

21.5 percent with bachelor’s degree or higher (compared to 27.4 percent U.S.)

Median household income $43,155 

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau estimates for 2006-2008

➧ Business

1,700 businesses

885,869 square feet of office space in downtown Bradenton

32.6 percent of downtown office space is vacant

SOURCES: City tax receipts, Manatee Office Vacancy Exchange (MOVE)

➧ Education

6 elementary schools

1 middle school

1 high school

1 school of higher education: State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota; 12,026 students; degrees offered are A.A, A.S., A.A.S. and B.S.N.

➧ Religion

50 churches of various denominations, including one Buddhist meeting room on Old Main Street. The city of Bradenton today has “more churches than bars,” according to Mayor Wayne Poston. There are no synagogues.


Pro-business. People want you to succeed and are very helpful with connections and information. According to Mayor Wayne Poston, “You can still do business here on a handshake.”

Baseball. The Pittsburgh Pirates are a tremendous community partner and continue to work with the city to create a destination around McKechnie Field. They also brought a Minor League team to the city for year-round baseball and night games at McKechnie.

Physical beauty and

outdoor recreation. Scenic views abound along the Manatee River and Palma Sola Scenic Highway, and there are open green spaces, such as the popular county-operated Robinson Preserve, 72 acres of public parks and a city golf course.

Cultural offerings. South Florida Museum is the home of Snooty the manatee as well as the Bishop Planetarium. De Soto National Memorial volunteers and staff tell how the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto came ashore at Tampa Bay in 1539. The Manatee Players provide amateur community theater. Manatee Village Historical Park has a 1903 general store and a 1913 locomotive. ArtsCenter Manatee has galleries, a library and a market. The Village of the Arts is the largest artists’ colony on the Gulf Coast.

Big-time sports. IMG Academies acquired the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in 1987 and then added training for golf, baseball, basketball and soccer. Located on a 300-acre campus, IMG attracts more than 12,000 athletes from about 80 countries every year.

Commitment to improve. Realize Bradenton won a multimillion-dollar grant from the Knight Foundation to promote downtown Bradenton. Along with the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority, it is promoting Bradenton as a great place to live, work, play, visit and invest.

➧ Access to beaches. Downtown Bradenton is only minutes from the beaches on Anna Maria Island.


Not enough trained, skilled workers. “This is not just a Bradenton problem,” says Mayor Poston. “It is a state problem. We need people in finance and technology who are eligible and ready to work in order to get the businesses we want.”

➧ High unemployment. At the start of 2010, one of nearly eight employable Manatee County residents lacked a job. Manatee’s 13.2 percent unemployment rate was the county’s highest rate in four decades.

➧ Limited economic base. “We are primarily housing and tourism,” the mayor says. The Bradenton Downtown Development Authority is working for more diversification and so is the Economic Development Council, but progress has been slow because of the weak economy.

Dwindling city revenues and population. “For the third consecutive year the City of Bradenton has faced unprecedented declines in nearly all sources of revenue,” according to a 2010 budget report, including a $4.5 million reduction in revenues available for general fund operations. This trend will continue for several more budget cycles, the report says. Meantime, the city is shrinking. The 2009 population of 53,942 is down about 200 people from the previous year.

Crime. There is a growing problem of gang activity in the Bradenton area, according to a state report released in February. The gang unit in the Manatee Sheriff’s office has increased from two to 10 deputies and appears to be making headway.

Decline of DeSoto Square Mall. Built in 1973, the mall has long been a shopping destination for Bradenton residents and visitors. But the mall has lost several stores over the past year, among them Dillard’s, Starbucks, Old Navy, Lady Foot Locker and Waldenbooks. Still open are Macy’s, Sears, J.C. Penney and a range of smaller stores.

Bradenton Neighbor-hoods

➧ Village of the Arts, established 10 years ago and administered by a nonprofit artist guild, consists of about 42 acres and 240 existing residential structures. It is the largest art community in the region and probably the state, with more than 35 artists who have transformed several dozen cottages from the 1920s and 1930s into a smorgasbord of colorful galleries and studios. Fine art, paintings, quilts, jewelry, ceramics and collectibles of all kinds are for sale, and the community also offers art classes, cafés and a bookstore. 

➧ Perico Island, the controversial condominium com-munity known as Seven Shores, could have a sales office open as early as October 2010 and residential models open by January 2011, according to Michael Belmont, executive vice president of Minto Communities, which purchased the Perico property from The St. Joe Company in October 2009.

Belmont says Minto will continue development of the 383-acre residential project based on previously approved plans from the City of Bradenton, which allow for construction of 686 housing units in 13 buildings ranging in height from six stories to 12 stories. Plans also provide for a 16-acre commercial project consisting of a 109-slip marina and 20,400 square feet for restaurant, offices and retail. Home prices will probably start at $300,000, Belmont says. 

Riverview Boulevard, which runs for about four miles along the Manatee River from 75th Street to downtown Bradenton, has some of the most exclusive and expensive real estate in the city, with imposing waterfront homes and gated estates listing for as much as $3.9 million.

Bradenton Tropical Palms, a 55-plus resident-owned community of trailer homes, dates back to 1936 when the Kiwanis Club of Bradenton initiated a project to build the “world’s largest trailer park.” Located at 2310 14th St. W., the park has 490 lots for mobile homes. A shareholder in the co-op pays about $157 a month for a lot; a renter pays about $425 a month for a lot with a home. The park has shuffleboard courts, a large swimming pool, fitness facilities and what is called the “nicest wooden dance floor in the Manatee-Sarasota county area.”

➧ Old Manatee Village, first settled in 1842 by Josiah and Mary Gates, is known today for its picturesque old brick warehouses that have been renovated into an antique and restaurant district. One of the most popular is Central Café, located in a turn-of-the-century brick hotel building at Manatee Avenue and Ninth Street East. Another landmark is Pelot’s Rexall Pharmacy, which has been in the Pelot family since they moved here after the Civil War. The village also has a residential section of about 200 homes, including many bungalows.

➧ Ware’s Creek neighborhoods, south of Manatee Avenue and a few blocks from downtown Bradenton, have more than 700 homes, four neighborhood associations, a 17th Avenue park with the only city-owned tennis court and a stream of water that is home to a variety of fish as well as a habitat for eagles, owls, manatees and otters. Ware’s Creek housing is “Old Florida,” with a range of older homes on big lots.

➧ Point Pleasant, originally known as Curry’s Point after its first settler, H.F. Curry, has been considered “an area for the elite” from its beginning in the early 1900s. The small neighborhood, which juts into the Manatee River, has about 2,000 residents and contains 39 structures over 65 years of age, two of them listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Westminster Bradenton Towers, “the Cadillac of assisted living facilities,” is located here. The community has several high-rise condominiums.

➧ Braden Castle Park, a small historic neighborhood tucked into Northeast Bradenton, just off Manatee Avenue and 27th Street East, has about 200 picturesque little houses on 40-by-40 lots, a network of narrow streets, boat ramps, a lagoon with a gazebo and scenic views of the Manatee River. It has the remains of Braden Castle, a fortress-like structure with 20-inch thick walls that Dr. Joseph Braden built on his sugar plantation in 1850 to withstand Indian attacks. It also contains the Braden Castle Tourist Camp, which dates back to 1924 when the Tin Can Tourists purchased 35 acres as a vacation camp.

➧ Palma Sola Trace, on 75th Street West near Cortez Road, one of the city’s newer neighborhoods, was approved in 2007 for 546 housing units, including single-family homes, duplex units and condos. Prices start at about $140,000. The 103-acre development was built over what used to be the Palma Sola Golf Course, but houses started coming on the market about the time real estate prices collapsed. Currently, about 75 percent of the development is finished; a number of completed homes are for sale.

People to Know

Mike Kennedy, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority of Bradenton, the agency that is charged with revitalizing downtown. One businessman describes Kennedy as a sharp guy who knows how to build consensus, a skill he needs to win grants, finalize contracts and attract new business to the city. In Kennedy’s previous jobs, he was executive director of Manatee County Habitat for Humanity; before that he was director of Florida operations for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

➧ Johnette Isham, executive director of Realize Bradenton, a new program that “promotes downtown Bradenton as a great place to live, work, play, visit and invest.” Isham, a former hard-working vice president at Ringling College of Art and Design, comes to this position with 30 years of experience in educational, government and corporate settings.

➧ Sherod Halliburton is the enthusiastic and friendly executive director of Bradenton Central Community Redevelopment Agency, which has the “goals of rehabilitation and economic development of neglected and blighted neighborhoods.” The CCRA’s targeted areas are between Sixth Street West and 27th Street East.

➧ Susie Walters is a widely admired community activist who served as founding president of Manatee County Habitat for Humanity and is now president of the Community Coalition for the Homeless. She is also vice president of the board of Realize Bradenton and a hospital Eucharistic minister at Saints Peter and Paul the Apostles Catholic Church.

➧ Chris Pennewill, vice president at Whitney Bank and chairman of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, has been in banking for 20 years, seven of them in Bradenton. He serves on the board of the South Florida Museum.

➧ Wayne Poston, mayor of Bradenton since 2000 and former executive editor of The Bradenton Herald, knows how to engage people to move his objectives forward. He is a big booster of the community but would like to see more diversification in the local economy and more skilled workers.

➧ Linda Bronkema is president of the Artists Guild of Manatee, the nonprofit group that oversees Bradenton’s Village of the Arts, the largest artist colony on the Gulf Coast, which currently includes about 35 galleries/studios/businesses. Bronkema displays her art quilts and other artworks in a shop that she calls Bits & Pieces.■

Voting in November 2008 general election



eligible voters














Presidential election

23,526 people voted

SOURCE: Manatee County

Office of Elections


[ Regional Report ]

Courtesy PHOTO

Bradenton’s picturesque waterfront


 Company name    Bradenton Description

 Bealls Inc         1,687    Retail and corporate

 Tropicana Products      1,500    Orange juice

 Manatee Memorial Hospital       1,500    Medical care

 Manatee County           1,280    Schools and offices

 School Board               (5,300 countywide employees)

 Blake Medical Center    1,007    Medical care

 Manatee County Government    547       County employees (1,700 countywide workers)

 Publix (4 stores)          543       Supermarkets

 City of Bradenton         529       City employees

 Westminster Communities of Bradenton            480       Assisted living communities

 Freedom Village           342       Assisted living community

 Manatee Glens 250       Mental health and addiction services

 Gould & Lamb, LLC      230       Medicare insurance specialist

 St. Stephen’s Episcopal School            150       Private school

 Champs Sports            125       Athletic retailer 

 BB&T  82         Banking, insurance, investments

SOURCES: Economic Development Council, Bradenton Downtown Development Authority, Manatee School Board, City of Bradenton, Manatee County and various other business and government sources


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