Bradenton City Administrator Carl Callahan is known for a blunt streak that’s also warm and authentic — befitting Bradenton’s tagline of “The Friendly City.”
Callahan, also director of the city’s economic development department, stayed in character while part of a recent breakfast panel on the strengths and weaknesses of three area hotspots: downtown Sarasota, downtown Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch. Callahan told the audience, there for the Sixth Annual Downtown Horizons event, that 20 years ago a high-ranking city official told him downtown Bradenton will always — and only — be for banking and government. “We have [since] spent lot of time trying to overcome that premise,” Callahan said. “We’re still trying to undo that.”
The city, of course, has made significant progress in reshaping downtown has a live-work-play locale, not just a place for city hall and banks. Recent and future projects Callahan highlighted, some $40 million in ongoing development, include a SpringHill Suites hotel with a rooftop bar; the expansion and rebranding of the Bishop Museum of Science and Nature; a 500-spot parking garage; streetscape projects to improve sidewalks, lighting and landscaping; and the expansion of the Riverwalk.
A Manatee High School graduate who has worked in the private sector, Callahan stressed Bradenton’s turnaround stems from a key civic lesson: Governments need to be nimble, entrepreneurial and responsive to their citizens and businesses. Callahan says that’s how Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston has positioned the city. “Without the appetite for change led by the mayor and the city council, none of this would’ve happened,” Callahan said.
Downtown Horizons, held at the Grove in Lakewood Ranch, was presented by the Realtor Association of Sarasota Manatee and its Commercial Investment Division. Chris Gallagher from Hoyt Architects and Lakewood Ranch Commercial Realty President Kirk Boylston joined Callahan on the panel.