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Revitalizing Community, Reuniting Bradenton

Revitalizing Community, Reuniting Bradenton


Embodying the true meaning of The Friendly City, Realize Bradenton is a local nonprofit with a mission to strengthen our community and foster its economic growth. From the transformation of the places you visit today, like the Bradenton Riverwalk, to bringing people together through events and experiences, like Walk Bradenton, this organization – in partnership with the City of Bradenton and the Community Redevelopment Agency – shapes the city we live, work, and play in.

The past year, however, hasn’t necessarily been conducive to bringing people together. So, how has Realize Bradenton confronted the challenges of a pandemic while keeping the spirit of their mission and our community alive? We’re looking back on Realize Bradenton’s year of adaptation, and looking ahead to an upcoming season of new goals, partnerships, and (hopefully), events that can bring us all together again.

Photos of Bradenton Blues Festival — Michael Bartley

Working Together While Staying Apart

Last year opened a new pathway for the Realize Bradenton team to flex their creative muscles to accommodate community members and businesses while prioritizing the safety of everyone involved

As local restauranter Mark Cripe, owner of Jennings Downtown Provisions, stated: “Realize Bradenton’s efforts to support downtown businesses and restaurants was vital to sustaining our [businesses] during the challenging times of the pandemic.”

Their first efforts focused on the weekly Farmers’ Market, which runs each year from October through May. The team created an online market throughout April and May, giving an opportunity for local farmers and vendors to still sell their products safely. Later, in October, the market was able to open up again with a more spread-out vendor configuration while requiring social distancing and masks. This became a popular way for community members to appreciate the outdoors.

The annual Bradenton Blues Festival brought its own set of challenges. A normally shoulder-to-shoulder event, the team at Realize Bradenton worked hard to keep the Blues alive – not only for the community, but also for the artists – with safety at the forefront. Fortunately, LECOM Park was able to partner with the team to create a memorable and safe Blues celebration. With 700 attendees rather than its usual 3,000, the festival brought the stadium to 10 percent capacity with plenty of room to space out and enjoy the day.

“With various safety measures in place, community members were so grateful for the opportunity to experience and enjoy live music again, that we had a hugely successful event. We’re so thankful that it went as well as it did,” said Andrea Knies, Director of Communications for Realize Bradenton.

Engagement Through Creativity

If you’re looking for an interactive way to teach, or learn, about the community, Realize Bradenton has helped create the areas first ever children’s book called Old Manatee, A to Z. All about the history of the community, with added curriculum for local educators, this is an engaging way for families, classrooms, and coloring enthusiasts to connect to the area.

“Anytime Realize Bradenton does anything at all, our primary focus is the diversity of people in the community. So, when we create or plan something, we always think about how the community could utilize it. This is why we conduct a lot of focus groups and surveys – because we truly do hear your voice, take that information, and use it,” said Knies.

To see this in action, just take a look at the Riverwalk, which is currently expanding toward the East. Realize Bradenton has become very involved in conversations about how to utilize the space, discovering that a majority would actually like a passive space that included public art instead of an active one filled with bands or entertainers. The solution? Partner with Old Manatee A to Z illustrator, Don Brandes, to bring the book’s visuals to life as future public art installations.

“This is going to connect the history, literacy, and public art all together in one space,” said Knies. “It’s going to be a place for residents and families to learn about the area, play together, and read together. All while activating the area in a different and thoughtful way based on feedback from the community.”

What’s in Store

So, what can we look forward to this summer and later into the year? First thing’s first, the 10th annual Bradenton Blues Festival dates and line-up have been announced, and in case you missed it, it’s definitely going to be one for the books. And not just because the one and only Grammy-winning legend, Bobby Rush will be taking the stage. In partnership with LECOM Park for another year, the event will follow COVID-19 protocols according to local health guidelines at the time of the event. And with the success of last year’s festival, we know it won’t take away from the experience this December.

Another thing to stay tuned for is a belated birthday party. 2020 was Realize Bradenton’s 10-year anniversary, and for the safety of the community, the celebrations, of course, remained digital. This means an official celebration for Realize Bradenton’s 11th year is in the line-up, and who knows what this celebration will have in store for the community!

Johnette Isham,

Executive Director

The Magic River by James Simon – Photos courtesy of Realize Bradenton

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