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The Return of Winter Wonderland

It wasn’t long after he officially became Mayor that Gene Brown shared certain thoughts with Marianne Barnebey.

“You know … Winter Wonderland …,” he said before pausing. “We need to get that back.”

And so, with that bug delivered to just the right ear, Bradenton got Winter Wonderland back.

Bringing holiday lights and caroling and Santa and – gasp, snow! – to Old Main Street isn’t quite so simple as all that, however. But if ever there was a perfect champion for a free family friendly event called Winter Wonderland, it’s Vice Mayor Marianne Barnebey.

For months, she’s been gathering sponsors and equipment and City staff. She’s been wooing Old Main businesses to participate. She’s been talking to anybody who will listen about the event, how it’s coming together and what else it still needs.

A little bit at a time, her muscle memory for the event she began back in 1996 is returning after a 9-year hiatus. Some details have been tweaked – Santa will visit with eager children via Zoom – but some things (read: snow mountains) remain the same.

That first year, before she became a City Council member, Marianne Barnebey thought maybe 500 people would show up to the downtown festival. Two thousand did. This year will be the 20th time that Winter Wonderland has been held; at its peak popularity, over 15,000 people poured into downtown. This year, coming back from the Covid pandemic, Councilwoman Barnebey is expecting maybe 10,000.

On Dec. 11 from 5 – 9 p.m., you can be one of those who experiences the joy of Bradenton’s slice of Wonderland. The boat parade on the Manatee River will arrive around 8 p.m. We invite you to come celebrate the season, the city, and the people who made it happen.

Thank you to the City of Bradenton for contributing this Good News!

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