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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.

Manatee Village Historical 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.

Manatee Village Historical Park, 1404 Manatee Avenue East, Bradenton

After a walking tour of all the attributes of downtown area, take a short drive and wonder upon the “Old Cabbage Head.” This should be enough to draw you into to visit the Manatee Village Historical Park. As you drive up, you will see the large 1913 Baldwin Locomotive and the uniqueness of this park only begins here. 

More than a century ago, Manatee County thrived on the Wiggins General Store, a blacksmith shop, a boat shop and so much more. To take a step back into the past, take a stroll through this park and visit all 14 points of interest. You’ll be able to envision what it was like to go to school in a 1908 schoolhouse and even attend church in a beautiful, wooden pew sanctuary from 1887. 

“We help foster a connection to our community,” said Phaedra Dolan, Director of Historical Resources for the Manatee County Clerk of Circuit Court and Comptroller. “They are able to see it through different eyes and to understand the struggles of those who worked to make our home the unique and wonderful place that it is today. The history we present helps them to appreciate the commitment it takes from all of us to maintain the community we enjoy.”

Discover history older than Walt Disney and learn how Bradenton’s settlement was deeply rooted in agriculture, aquaculture and maritime. So much of these roots is what makes Bradenton so unique. The lifestyle of Bradenton has been shaped by the historical growth and developments, and to truly see how, Manatee Village Historical Park displays the historical structures that can transport you back in time.

“For me, there is nothing like sitting and rocking or swinging on the porch of one of the historic structures at Manatee Village, particularly on a quiet morning before the traffic starts whirring by,” Dolan said. “You can truly be transported to another time. I love to see that moment of understanding when visitors are transported and make the connection between those who lived one hundred or more years ago and their own personal experience.”

Here is a digital exhibit to get you started.

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 Bishop Museum of Science and Nature – 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 Bishop Museum of Science and Nature, 201 10th Street West, Bradenton

The recently remodeled Bishop Museum of Science and Nature is a historical cornerstone of the downtown scene that is taking steps to get kids and young adults more active in the sciences.

As you traverse the different exhibits, make sure to download the new unveiled app, Pathways, an interactive curator in your pocket. Pathways will connect visitors to art collections and allow the attendee to experience the museum on a whole new level. 

Another stop on your journey should be the three manatees currently being rehabilitated for their eventual return to the wild. Get to know all about them firsthand from their very own handlers in an amazing manatee showing.

The rehabilitation center is a favorite of many, including former custodial employee, Tom Schwarz.

“What draws people in is not only the featured exhibits, but the Manatees,” said Schwarz. “I’ve worked at Bishop for 12 years, and I have been able to watch the progress and growth of the rehabilitation process for each manatee. Even after my recent retirement from the museum, I still keep a picture of Snooty in my living room.”

Snooty, of course, was the facility’s icon and the oldest manatee in captivity until his death in 2017.

Schwarz mentioned that the new children’s educational center is also a must see because children love to play on the tree house and the homemade rocket.

Along with the new children’s educational center, be sure to return regularly as the museum features a rotating “main exhibit” that changes every few months or so. Previously, there was a National Geographic Photography exhibit that featured “50 Greatest Photographs” in the history of the magazine.

View upcoming exhibitions on their website!

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

Manatee Performing Arts Center – 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.

Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Avenue West, Bradenton

Just a short stroll from the Riverwalk, you will find the stunning uniqueness of the Manatee Performing Arts Center. One portion of this Arts Center is the genuine love of the arts. More specifically, performance art by the founders — The Manatee Players Inc. It’s a group of talented women performers, who created a vision and established a theater like no other. A decor that is unparalleled coupled with a breathtaking auditorium will leave any attendee wanting to come back performance after performance.

Not only a performing arts center, but also a local educational program that provides musical camps for youth, programs for the 55 and over crowd, a student ambassador program, and a technical and theatre management internship.

“My favorite aspect of the center is we are a place where the community can gather safely and bring people together from all walks of life who can engage, grow, and be inspired while being entertained,” said Janene Amick, chief executive officer.

The Manatee Performing Arts Center displays the work of local artists as well as a beautiful display of the original chandelier from Gone with the Wind!

“We are unique in having a space that can offer multiple performances in our two theater spaces and special events in our ballroom upstairs and supporting other events remotely all at the same time!” says Amick. “This make Bradenton the place to be.”

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

ArtCenter Manatee – 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.

ArtCenter Manatee, 209 9th Street West, Bradenton

Take a stroll along the waterfront at the Riverwalk and you’ll come upon this local art hub that features an eclectic array of art from a variety of artists, local, state and national alike. Going on 83 years of existence, the ArtCenter continues to involve the community by bringing in new exhibits and events monthly, including the American Watercolor Society International Exhibit. This exhibit is unique, because it only exists in six locations in the country and the ArtCenter is the only one which hosts it in Florida.

The ArtCenter has helped the community come together in many aspects.

“We have over 300 volunteers that help with all aspects of our happenings,” said Carla Nierman, Executive Director at ArtCenter Manatee. “Anyone can enter our open juried shows, anyone can take classes, and we have open houses that are free and allow guests to create and try new experiences.”

After you enjoy some art, you can learn to make it too. Classes are available to the public and with over 3,000 active students, the ArtCenter Manatee offers lessons to hone your skills in painting, pastels, pottery, photography and much more.

“We bring people together with art classes, events and exhibits that change out monthly,” said Nierman. “We also have an awesome gift shop of handcrafted items for the community to enjoy.”

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

Walkability – Top 12

Walkability- Featuring Economic Benefits and a user-friendly exploration source

“First fix the streets, then the people and business will follow.”

-Dan Burden, Walkable Communities, Inc.

If you’re taking a stroll and it’s your first time visiting downtown Bradenton, there is so much volume to the area and so much to explore. People gravitate towards the well-known Old Main Street, where popular bars and restaurants line 12th Street West. You might notice art displayed on sides of buildings, on parking garages and sporadically around the area.

The uniqueness of downtown has everything to do with the historical presence that runs through the city. You can feel the energy and familial hospitality when visiting each shop, museum, restaurant and more. Wandering around and discovering for yourself is always a journey, but to add to the experience try using

Walk Bradenton is a website that acts as a local google maps for downtown Bradenton. The map displays all the surrounding businesses and categorizes the areas surrounding downtown. You can learn about the local art and historical landmarks as you make your journey through town.

Having a town that is walkable, safe and friendly is paramount and economically beneficial. Realize Bradenton created this website with the goal in mind to bring people together, to create a city that is user-friendly and allow for safe adventures through downtown. To make the most of your visit, people deserve to know there is more to venture through than just Old Main Street. This website also displays the historical Village of the Arts, an eclectic artistic area just around the corner from downtown.

Just by taking 500 steps people will discover The Riverwalk or The Village of The Arts, encouraging exploration and a learning experience of all Bradenton has to offer. Getting to know this unique town can be fun and beneficial on foot.

The website automatically locates the user on the map and instantly connects them to information about the 58 pieces of public art, 25 historical sites and 145 local businesses.

This website could and should be a game changer in people’s explorations here. If it’s your first time in Bradenton, the website can show you what local businesses are offering and if events are occurring. Maybe you want to take a chance and explore the Saturday morning Farmer’s Market on Old Main Street. What better time to check out the website and continue your day exploring the other areas of downtown?

According to The Economic Benefits of Walkable Communities, a factsheet published by the Local Government Commission in Sacramento, Calif., the benefits of a walkable community have shown economic viability. It’s a good investment that increases property values, reduces traffic noise, vehicle-generated air pollution and good for local retail sales.

By using this website, it will encourage people to want to leave the car in the parking garage for the day, go walking and have an adventure with friends and family. Tap on a point of interest on the map and you will find “location cards,” that display videos, links, events and descriptions of specials going on at the local businesses.

This website can encourage all of us to become a part of the change and help not only the economy, but the environment and allow everyone a change of pace from their normal routines.   

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

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