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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!

Family Values Guide Jennings Provisions

The first time I enjoyed lunch at Jennings Provisions on Old Main Street, I had a distinctly pleasurable feeling of Deja Vue. The welcoming greeting from staff, the fresh quality of the food, the interesting and diverse menu, and the eclectic décor that was a mix of modern and vintage, reminded me of pleasurable dining experiences in the past.  It was when I met the owner and his sister that everything fell into place.  The proprietor, Marc Cripe, and his sister Meagen Jones, come from a long line of successful restaurateurs.  Thirty years ago, the Café de France was a favorite spot.  Then we found Central Café in East Manatee which became our new go to.  Both of these restaurants were the inspiration of the Cripe family. No wonder everything felt so right at Jennings.

Still a family operation, the qualities that made their other restaurants so successful are very much in evidence.  According to Marc and Meagen, their “family values” include sourcing local growers and brewers, creating as much of their menu “in house” as possible (they make their bread), and offering a relaxing and sociable atmosphere.  As Marc pointed out, “Our menu is designed around shareable plates meant to be enjoyed with friends.  Our selection of local beers, ciders, and wine are chosen to complement our menu and to support our local food industry. We’re all in this together.”  They carry a locally brewed kombucha for those who prefer something non-alcoholic.  And keeping things “in the family”, the wine selection is from Lola Winery in Calistoga Ca, developed by their brother Seth Cripe.

Marc and Megean are part of a group of young entrepreneurs who are bringing a new vibe to downtown Bradenton. As Meagen says, “Those of us who grew up here want to see a thriving and diverse downtown.  We want a “place” to go.  That’s what will keep us here and attract new, younger residents to this community.”   Recently, they added a select group of merchandise- t-shirts, jewelry, greeting cards-as they recognized a need for more retail on Old Main.  Almost all of the items are created by local artists, like Clare, the incredibly engaging young woman who runs the front of the house.  Patrons of Central Café will remember the same eclectic mix  where you could have a great meal and find a great gift.

Longtime Bradenton residents have watched Downtown’s ups and downs, but this commitment of talented young entrepreneurs signals a new era.  Thanks to this new generation of a talented family, we continue to have a place that gives us an authentic experience of the best of this community.  Jennings Provisions can be found on Facebook, Instagram, and  Know before you go as the menu changes to reflect what’s in season. 

Thank you to guest blogger, Maureen Zaremba, for this Good News!

Bradenton Police Department: Community Connections

Calling all volunteers! Did you know that the Bradenton Police Department (BPD) offers the community a wide range of citizen service opportunities?  As with many organizations, BPD is is actively welcoming back volunteers after the pandemic hiatus. “Volunteers provide valuable assistance that allows our officers to focus on getting their job done.” says  Captain Brian Thiers.  “There are no special requirements to volunteer with the Department.  You represent the Department, so a friendly face and welcoming attitude are particularly important as well as a willingness to serve.”  A basic background check and interview are part of the application process.

If you like interacting with people, there is a place for you at the Welcome Desk. That position is located at the entrance to the building and assists with directing visitors. If you have office and computer skills, come on down.  Volunteers can assist with locating and processing citizen information requests and keeping up with paperwork.  The Office of Professional Standards is in constant need of people who like paper. And if shredding is your thing, Captain Thiers  says there is a special place for you!  If you are interested in getting a little deeper into operations, the Department provides special training which is required to protect privacy issues during investigations.

If you’re handy with a paintbrush or good with household repairs, volunteers can assist staff maintenance throughout the facility.  The Department takes pride in offering all visitors a welcoming environment.  Gardeners are needed too!  A wonderful new initiative offered by the BPD is the Community Garden.  Located opposite the entrance of the BPD,  the Garden was designed to be a safe space for the community.  Buying or selling online, use the Community Garden as a meeting place for a transaction.  Cameras and easy access to officers provide peace of mind.  With benches, a charming arbor, fountain, and lots of greenery, the Garden is a great place to meet up.  Green thumbs are welcome in helping maintain this thoughtful addition to downtown.

If you are interested in becoming a part of this key community resource, Captain Thiers encourages you reach out to him. or 941 932 9364

In the meantime, we can all “volunteer” by taking a few extra steps to assist officers.

Lock your cars, particularly at night, and register your home security system to cut down on false alarms.  We can all do our share.

Thank you to guest blogger, Maureen Zaremba, for this Good News!

Bikes Are Back

To all Bradenton Bicyclists!  There’s a new bike shop in town!  You no longer have to try to do it yourself or take your favorite ride out of town for repairs and tuneups. JT Bikes has been open for business at 533 13th St West for eight months.  For long time Bradenton residents that’s the address of the venerable City Hall Shoe Repair.  From trikes to serious road bikes, and everything in between, JT offers exceptional service in a remarkably friendly customer forward environment.  

When Ringling Bicycles closed, Bradenton lost a valuable community asset.  JT was working at Ringling and recognized the desperate situation cyclists were left in.  He decided to bring his own skill and passion to develop a business model that reflects his own values. “My goal is to offer a good product at a good price. I do a repair right the first time.  That way the customer is happy and so am I.  I won’t have to repair it a second time.”

Though JT is skilled at working on all kinds of machines that have moving parts-cars, trucks, motorcycles- but his passion is bicycles.  He enjoys sharing that passion.  Several customers came and went while I was visiting.  JT met every customer with a genuine “what can I help you with?” attitude. Requests ranged from assistance with identifying a ball bearing for a Schwinn trike, to repairs on a custom road bike, to advice for a BMX rider. His BMX customer commented, “JT is a great teacher.  He’s generous with his expertise and is a great support for the serious biking community.”  Though JT  works on a wide range of bikes, he wants to become known as the go to for this areas skilled riders. 

When he’s not working on bikes, he’s riding them. Though he’s an avid BMX rider, he’s looking at a road bike for himself.  Florida lends itself to road bikes with its long stretches of open roads and flat landscape. To encourage more riders, he’s joined with Commute Connector, a program with the Florida Department of Transportation, that assists with identifying safe bike routes and advocates for cycling safety. And as a community service, JT Offers a free safety check up on any bike.

While JT has focused on offering high quality service, he has expanded into selling bikes and bike accessories.  When asked what determines what products he sells, he said “I look for bikes that are affordable and are good quality.  I don’t want to sell a bike that is constantly breaking down.  That’s not good business for myself or my customers.” 

JT Bikes is located in what was the City Hall Shoe Repair and his introduction to Bradenton was through Ringling Bikes. Though these businesses have closed, it is exciting to see a new generation of young entrepreneurs embracing the roles that these businesses played in this community.  They are bringing a new energy and services with them that is crucial to our growing city. 

Thank you to guest blogger, Maureen Zaremba, for this Good News!

Marisa Powers Joins Board

Realize Bradenton welcomes Marisa Powers of Blalock Walters to its Board of Directors.

Marisa Powers is currently an associate at Blalock Walters practicing in the areas of local government, litigation, and land use. Marisa has been involved with many local organizations including, Turning Points, PACE Center for Girls, and Manatee Young Professionals. She currently serves as the President of the Manatee Inn of Court which is dedicated to promoting the highest levels of professionalism in the practice of law.

Carrie Price, Realize Bradenton’s Board Chair, states, “In addition to her legal experience and professional affiliations, Marisa is dedicated to the future of Bradenton and volunteers much of her time and talent to our community. We are excited to bring her enthusiasm to the Realize Bradenton Board of Directors.”

Realize Bradenton is a nonprofit organization that promotes redevelopment and economic growth in Downtown Bradenton by transforming places, engaging people, and realizing possibilities.

Realize Bradenton Board of Directors:

Shop Local – Top 12

This Good News Story written by Jamey Hitchcock is a Realize Bradenton production funded by the Knight Donor Advised Fund at the Manatee Community Foundation.

This series has been an accumulation of Why We Love This City Bradenton, and to bring it back full circle this article is going to talk about the heart of downtown.

Where local music comes alive.

Where the Bradenton Farmers’ Market brings together the community every Saturday morning.

And where a couple of local shops have been part of attracting locals and newcomers every week. 

With the cafés and bars in downtown, it’s common to see local musicians playing regularly at some of our favorite spots. You can catch Undine Shorey, a local multi-instrumentalist, who plays a mix of jazz, R&B and soul, at the Central Café, 906 Manatee Avenue East and various public and private events. To follow where she’s playing, visit her Facebook page

“Music is its own language,” Shorey said. “You can be any age, any background and still connect with complete strangers because the love of music brings people together. Music breaks down walls. You can’t help but get up and dance when a good song comes on. Anyone can relate to that feeling. All it takes is one person to start dancing and then the entire dance floor is filled. Why? Because we are wired to connect, you can find out a lot about a person by the music they listen to.”

Downtown is known for bringing in local musicians and among them is Terrence Fearon (aka Tbone), a guitarist and singer at Tom’s Bad Ass Café, 312 12th Street West, or McCabe’s Irish Pub, 302 12th Street West, on the weekends. 

Fearon has recently jumped back into the music scene. Having grown up in Bradenton, he loves showing the community what he learned at Manatee School for the Arts. 

“Getting back out playing again has been so much better than I anticipated it would possibly be, especially after so many years of not playing live,” Fearon said. “Connecting with people through live music, watching or playing has always been one of my favorite things in the world.

It can really cut through all the hard stuff we all deal with daily. If the vibes are good and people are locked in that moment with you, it really doesn’t get much better that.”

While we know how awesome local music can be, there is so much more going on downtown in Bradenton. Take the Bradenton Farmer’s Market, an eclectic assortment of booths that carry local food, handmade goods, and artwork. 

Morgan Bettes, the Farmer’s Market manager, has recently become an essential part of planning and organizing the vendors and those interested in applying to set up booths at the market. Bradenton, which proudly calls itself The Friendly City, generates good vibes to visitors on Saturday mornings and Bettes is a big reason people keep returning.

“Farmers’ markets are important for so many reasons,” Bettes said. “From an economic standpoint, it’s a cost-effective way for local businesses to sell their products in the marketplace. It’s a place for farmers to connect with their communities, educate them and sell produce in the freshest way possible. Many people find the farmers’ market to be a place that gives them pride in their community and connects them to where they live.”

Despite COVID regulations and strict protocols people faced the past year, the Farmer’s Market has been a safe environment for the community to social distance and enjoy what downtown has to offer.

But now, more than ever, the Farmer’s Market needs the community’s patronage.

“Support the vendors, keep shopping with us each week, buying your favorite products, rain or shine,” Bettes said. “By wearing masks, using our hand sanitizer stations and social distancing, that will allow us to continue to have the market every Saturday. By helping us all keep healthy and safe, all of the benefits from the market are able to be in play.”

Shopping locally doesn’t end at the Farmer’s Market, but continues with the small, established businesses that have been a unique part of downtown. 

Have you ventured over to Gypsea Soul, 615 15th Street West?

It’s a boutique, art studio and a hair salon all in one. They have customers coming in to browse, who will often return later for an art class, or get their hair done and bring in friends to explore the shop.

And such backing has helped local businesses like Gypsea Soul thrive despite the pandemic. 

“We have seen consistent support from our community and have met so many wonderful people,” owner Ashley Louda said. “I have been able to meet other shop owners, as well, who have been kind enough to refer me business and we make sure to return the favor. The downtown area has seen a lot of growth since we’ve been here and new businesses are still popping up downtown. It’s amazing what such a small area has to offer and it’s really nice to be this close to the water and have all the basics.”

Yet another new, small business that has benefitted from community support despite COVID is Saw Blossom, 1506 13th Street West. It’s a custom-made furniture store that has begun to flourish in the Village of the Arts within walking distance from downtown.

“The Village community has embraced us and we certainly support one another,” owner Jeannie Vazquez said. “We’re very grateful for everyone who has spread the word about our shop. And we keep up with our social media pages to let locals know what we’re about and when we have new items to offer. We’re still growing our online shop, allowing people to shop online and to have their orders picked up or locally delivered.”

Although Saw Blossom is new, it is growing, another example of what continued community support can do.

This post is part of the Top 12 Reasons We Love This City series. Read more here.

This post is part of the Top 12 Reasons We Love This City series. Read more here.

Public Art – Top 12

This Good News Story written by Jamey Hitchcock is a Realize Bradenton production funded by the Knight Donor Advised Fund at the Manatee Community Foundation.

Public Art- Outdoor art encourages walking and economic development.

Through murals, sculptures and functional art throughout downtown Bradenton, the community has seen the growth of art from seven to 67 pieces in the last nine years with the support of the Realize Bradenton team.

Realize Bradenton is in the public art business, because of its involvement in local business and to help ensure the area is aesthetically pleasing through economic growth and development.

Jodi Carroll, special projects manager at Realize Bradenton, focuses on the development of the public art.

“Art connects a diverse population and a diverse group of people with diverse thoughts,” she said. “Some people like sculptures or murals that tell a story and it’s important to have a collection of varied resources for a diverse taste that attracts cultural tourism.”

The seven pieces of art that began in 2010 has expanded to over 67 pieces through funding from the government, local businesses and the Knight Donor Advised Fund at the Manatee Community Foundation. Since the creation of The Riverwalk, the community has seen the value of how art can attract people to the city and create a sense of identity.

“The goal is a walkability connection amongst The Village of the Arts, to downtown and then to The Riverwalk,” Carroll said. “This happens through the placement of the art of all along the way. The continuity of the art throughout the city allows for people to keep walking and discover more. You can put on 10,000 steps by walking from The Riverwalk all the way to the Village of the Arts, seeing neat art and come across some great shops and restaurants. That’s what walkability is all about.”

Realize Bradenton is constantly focused on involving the community and public art has been integral to this goal.

An example is Court House Memories, a featured postcard art piece adjacent to the courthouse, created by Regan Dunnick, illustrator and professor at Ringling College of Art and Design. The law office of J. Grimes Goebel Grimes & Hawkins sponsored the piece which focuses on what they do as a law firm and supports the importance of public art.

Court House Memories

Carroll commented on her favorite art piece, one she was significantly involved in and that she believes truly reflects the culture of downtown Bradenton.

“The Magic River is the mosaic affixed to the new City of Bradenton parking garage,” she said. “An 125-foot mosaic mural created by the artist James Simon, a worldwide known sculpture and mosaic artist. He worked with the public art committee to create the subject matter to reflect the City of Bradenton and it was assembled and created in Pittsburgh. He drove all the way here and assembled the individual pieces on to the wall of the parking garage.”

The Magic River

Realize Bradenton did a Riverwalk extension community engagement two years ago and found that public art was ranked in the top four of attractions people wanted to see while in the area. A great example has been Realize Bradenton’s new Children’s book created to reflect the history of Bradenton, “Old Manatee A to Z.” Part of The Riverwalk expansion has reading areas that use the illustrations from the book as public art post cards displayed in the area. It’s not only public art, but a chance to engage families in the community.

Continue to read more about “Old Manatee A to Z” with this link, and to view more about the public art in Bradenton, follow this link.

This post is part of the Top 12 Reasons We Love This City series. Read more here.

LECOM Park – Top 12

This Good News Story written by Jamey Hitchcock is a Realize Bradenton production funded by the Knight Donor Advised Fund at the Manatee Community Foundation.

More than a ball field, LECOM Park has created connections throughout the community hosting events with the Boys and Girls Club of Manatee County, the Pace Center for Girls, the Manatee Education Foundation and youth sports leagues, too.

In addition, LECOM Park has been intertwined with the lives of people born and raised nearby.

Ray Morris is one of them.

“I grew up around the ballpark,” said the Pirates Director of Florida Operations. “I started as a bat boy at nine years old and progressed as an intern for three or four years and then I was made an operations manager. About three years ago I was made director and as you can see LECOM Park has been a part of my entire life. I’ve seen it evolve and one of my favorite features has been the 360-degree Board Walk, because it allows you and your family to enjoy the ballgame while socializing in this enjoyable atmosphere and having a great day at the ballpark.”

LECOM Park and its charm draws friends and family from all over, creating a unique interactive experience. With the Village of the Arts so close by, you can bring your family to a ballgame, then walk over to VOTA and enjoy the arts afterward.

Despite the pandemic, both LECOM Park and VOTA are growing and creating enjoyable experiences for the public with social distancing in mind.

“I hope LECOM Park will continue to evolve as the premier entertainment destination in our area,” said Craig Warzecha, the Marauders general manager. “Whether that be for baseball or other events, I hope our positive impact and service to the community continues to grow as well.”

This post is part of the Top 12 Reasons We Love This City series. Read more here.

This post is part of the Top 12 Reasons We Love This City series. Read more here.

Village of the Arts – Top 12

This Good News Story written by Jamey Hitchcock is a Realize Bradenton production funded by the Knight Donor Advised Fund at the Manatee Community Foundation.

A city lined with concrete business fronts, bumper-to-bumper traffic and an increasing level of noise pollution isn’t really indicative of a melting pot of artistic expression. So one has to travel beyond the reaches of the modern day metropolitan craziness to really enjoy the niche areas of life.

Imagine an entire community whereas an artist you can live and breathe your artwork right at your doorstep. The Village of the Arts (VOTA) is a vibrant, engaging atmosphere that creates an inviting scene in Bradenton which is truly unique.

Meet Mary Fragapane, owner of “The Dude and Mary’s Art of Life & Music,” 1414 11th Street West, who has spent the last five years with her husband, Chad Clifford, dedicating their lives to the Village of the Arts. Both have searched high and low for the perfect area to spread their love of art and music to the community, knowing it could change lives and bring the community together.

Fragapane finds her creativeness in everyday household items and will find her inspiration for her next art piece from an item she finds that day, and she calls this assemblage art. Her work also includes fine and fun art, as well as diverse gift items displayed in her gallery. Today, she continues to work on large scale murals and public art that has been displayed nationally and internationally.

Clifford plays the upright bass with The Divebombers. Checkout their work here: If you want to see a glimpse of Clifford’s work, stop by the gallery during business hours, you might run into the Dude playing his bass in the magic garden.

A community within walking distance of downtown Bradenton holds so much history and value to the growing city. Fragapane and her husband have been able to create music and public art the community can get excited about, draw people together and take pride in their city.

“Living and working in the Village of the Arts is better than we could have imagined and aligns perfectly with our mission — to live a life centered around creativity and the free expression of that creativity,” Fragapane said.

Walking the streets of VOTA is an interactive experience on its own. You can look at a mailbox or a telephone pole and there will be some form of art painted on them. People decorate their homes with vibrant colors and designs and it draws you in from the moment you step foot into the Village.

“The artists living and working here have the freedom to let creativity reign and spill out into the public realm,” Fragapane said. “So you have this mix of large scale professionally commissioned work right next to an art installation that is a simple representation of what that particular artist is inspired by in that moment.

As a newcomer to the Bradenton, this is an opportunity to explore downtown, grab dinner and drinks and venture towards VOTA for dessert at the Arte Caffé Italian Bakery and Market, 930 12th Street West, where you can meet the owners Remo and Meredith Mambelli.

The Mambelli’s bring a tatse of Italy to the Village of the Arts and have incorporated Remo’s mother’s recipes that he grew up learning in Italy. Take a chance and check out this hiddem gem along with all of the other small, local businesses of VOTA!

Why We Love This City Bradenton has everything to do with how we can create a community for those who live here and those who visit. The people connect with the art and the artists of VOTA because of the hospitality and the open doors that connect everyone. You can find art shows on the weekends as well as specials every day from local restaurants and cafes along with music filling the streets.

This post is part of the Top 12 Reasons We Love This City series. Read more here.

This post is part of the Top 12 Reasons We Love This City series. Read more here.

The Central Library – Top 12

This Good News Story written by Jamey Hitchcock is a Realize Bradenton production funded by the Knight Donor Advised Fund at the Manatee Community Foundation.

The Central Library, 1112 Manatee Avenue West, Bradenton

The waterfront location of the Central Library alone is a part of the social infrastructure that enhances quality of life. It’s an educational and cultural center open to all and offers opportunities for self-enhancement in unique ways.

One way to catch a glimpse of the initiatives and programs hosted by the library is to stop by its table at the local Farmer’s Market located in downtown Bradenton. There have been displays of the children’s programs, food demonstrations and other informational programs to have an involvement.

“All of our programs are impactful for many age groups. We have STEM programming for kids and story times,” said Librarian Jyna Johnson, the library system program coordinator. “We also offer a Summer Reading Challenge for Adults that challenges participants to broaden their horizons by reading from an obscure list of genres. Also, we’ve had quite a few writing programs in conjunction with the literary journal we publish called 805–a great vehicle for millennial writers and readers.”

The journal was conceived and helmed by Stephanie Katz, a librarian at the downtown branch.

The Central Library continues to extend its reach all over town, including the 3 Keys Brewing and Eatery! In the past there has been a book discussion called “Books on Tap” that was conducted at the local brewery on State Road 64.

Downtown Bradenton is more than meets the eye. Stop in and check out how The Central Library can cater to your age group and expand your horizons!

This post is part of the Top 12 Reasons We Love This City series. Read more here.

This post is part of the Top 12 Reasons We Love This City series. Read more here.

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