Lori Sax. Carl Callahan, Bradenton city administrator and economic development director, and Johnette Isham, Realize Bradenton executive director, in front of the Mosaic Backyard Universe to be built at South Florida Museum.

Key developments in downtown Bradenton could help usher in more vibrant city core

Leaders explain what they’re most excited about in downtown Bradenton — and why these changes will have a big impact on the area’s future.
By: 
Aug. 31, 2018

Bradenton city official Carl Callahan remembers going to the theaters and stores downtown while growing up.

That kind of traditional, Rockwell-esque Main Street hasn't been part of Bradenton for decades. But with some key projects underway, a downtown Bradenton revitalization is in the works. The three major projects that promise a big impact on the heart of the city are the construction of a SpringHill Suites hotel, the expansion of South Florida Museum and the building of the City Centre facility.

Other important projects include the renovation of Twin Dolphin Marina on the Manatee River; streetscape projects to improve sidewalks, lighting and landscaping; and the expansion of the Riverwalk, which Callahan says could start in late 2019. All told, more than $40 million in projects are in some form of development. 

"I really am most excited about the core, right here near city hall," says Callahan, Bradenton city administrator and economic development director. "The fabric of our nation is the core of our communities. Let’s build that core back up.”

As a whole, the revitalization is part of a long-term effort, he adss. “We knew we needed to do a lot of things down here.”

One project that helped kick off development downtown was the renovation of the historic Pink Palace into a Hampton Inn and Suites in 2013. That $17 million project took a property in foreclosure for four years and turned it into a thriving hotel. “That got everyone thinking about downtown in a different way,” Callahan says.

“The fabric of our nation is the core of our communities. Let’s build that core back up.” — Carl Callahan, city administrator and economic development director, City of Bradenton

In public meetings, it’s become clear residents want Bradenton to preserve the quaintness and the architectural history of downtown, says Johnette Isham, executive director of Realize Bradenton. The organization helps Bradenton connect people and leverage assets, building community to increase quality of life and economic development.

She says it’s also clear people want downtown to become more vibrant through public art, streetscape improvements, walkability and new businesses opening. That strategy has keyed the revival of several other downtowns on the west coast of Florida, from Dunedin in Pinellas County to Punta Gorda in Charlotte County. 

“The national research shows when you focus on a community’s assets and you intentionally work to bring people together to shape a community and enjoy a community, that it does two things — it enhances quality of life and builds economic development,” Isham says.

As for why several big projects are happening at the same time, Isham says there are some reasons for that. For one, some have been discussed for several years. “I would say a lot of it is based on communication and cooperation and a little element of serendipity in there,” she says. “Sometimes things happen like perfect storms in a positive way.”

SpringHill Suites

At the center of the developments in downtown Bradenton is a new 131-room SpringHill Suites hotel currently under construction. The $22 million project calls for an eight-story, 78,000-square-foot hotel.

Courtesy. A rendering of the SpringHill Suites under construction in downtown Bradenton.

“The big game-changer is SpringHill Suites,” Isham says. “This developer really took it very seriously that Bradenton is not only a great place to live but to visit.” 

The hotel will have a restaurant on the first floor as well as a rooftop bar. Both will be Oak & Stone facilities, run by Sarasota-based Tableseide Restaurant Group. Other Oak & Stone locations are in east Manatee County and downtown St. Petersburg. 

Longtime Bradenton developer and builder Ron Allen, president of Bradenton-based NDC Construction Co., the general contractor on the SpringHill Suites, has been through several project and development cycles since coming to town in 1984. “Downtown is really coming into its own,” he says. “It’s really exciting to see all of the strides that have been made.”

Allen is also one of two managing partners on the development side of the hotel, where workers are finishing exterior stucco and painting. “We’re at the drywall stage now,” he says. The hotel, along with the restaurant and bar, will likely open in the first quarter of 2019.

From the rooftop bar, Allen says the view will be gorgeous. He says from there, people will be able to see the Sunshine Skyway, downtown St. Petersburg, downtown Bradenton and the Manatee River.

A key feature important to hotels today, Allen says, is not only what amenities are offered at the hotel itself, but what’s located within walking distance. When you’re in a new place, he says, guests want to be able to get out and explore. And he believes downtown Bradenton will offer that opportunity.

South Florida Museum

Not far from the SpringHill Suites, a new North Education Center is being built at the South Florida Museum, long a staple of downtown Bradenton, for youth education and community events. 

Courtesy. A rendering of the Mosaic Backyard Universe to be built at South Florida Museum.

The center will include six classrooms — four new classrooms and two renovated rooms. Those areas will give the museum the capacity to serve more students, says CEO Brynne Anne Besio.

The expansion also includes the Mosaic Backyard Universe, a STEM-based learning site focused on what’s in a backyard, with indoor and outdoor components relating to science, technology, engineering and math. The Backyard Universe is geared toward a new demographic the museum is targeting: children ages two to eight. “This new piece is going to allow us to serve our earliest learners better than we’ve ever served them,” Besio says. “We’re really stepping up our game.”

The expansion project is expected to cost $10 million to $11 million, although pricing is still being finalized on exhibitions.

In all, the expansion will give the museum the ability to host larger programming events, Besio says. “It allows us to be a hub of education.”

The changes will mean big things for the museum, but Besio says it will also have an impact beyond the museum’s walls. “With the synergistic growth downtown has, not only are we modernizing the architecture and bringing a whole new resource, we’re really showing that we’re moving into the future as well as Bradenton is,” she says. “I think that Bradenton is really in a progressive mode.”

City Centre

The City Centre mixed-use building in downtown Bradenton will be home to 500 parking spaces. 

Courtesy. A rendering of the City Centre facility in the works for downtown Bradenton.

That solves a lingering issue that can sink a growing urban core. “We’ll have a place to park,” Besio says. “It’s a challenge right now.”

But it won’t just be a parking garage. The facility will also have 5,000 square feet of retail on the ground level and a new 7,500-square-foot office for the Manatee Chamber of Commerce.

The project, which will cost a maximum of $13.8 million, will likely be finished in February 2019, says Callahan.

The City Centre project was a kickstart for downtown development. “We knew we needed parking,” Callahan says. “That’s where it all kind of got started.”

Once people see the developments in downtown Bradenton, Callahan predicts more people will start talking about what could be next. “I think it’s going to be a very user-friendly area," he says. "Success obviously will beget success. You’ll see people go, ‘Yeah, it’s a little bit of a different place, and where’s my opportunity to grab hold of it?’”