South of Tampa Bay, Bradenton is the county seat of Manatee County witih a population of just over 53,000. A short drive from Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport with attraction nearby, residents enjoy water-based activities, including boating, fishing, canoeing, and sunning. The median household income is below the national average at nearly $35,000, and about 10 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.
This small town has gone cosmopolitan, due in part to a facelift in the Village of the Arts, a growing neighborhood of cottages, homes, studios, and galleries. Many artists opened businesses in this trendy, renovated area just to the south of downtown; a new antiques district is located northeast of downtown.
In conjunction with recent downtown renovations, Promenade at Riverwalk is being developed. Before this, it was a vacant area of land on the Manatee River called Sandpile. Upon completion, the Promenade will include condos, offices, a hotel, and other commercial opportunities, including the Manatee Players Riverfront Theater.
Also being updated is Bradenton Village. Formerly a dilapidated and crime-ridden public housing area southeast of downtown, it is now a community of colorful townhomes offering living opportunities for everyone. Tamiami Trail is also seeing changes, with new houses, offices, and commercial-use properties.
Orange juice, locally grown, is the name of the game in Bradenton. Tropicana Products production remains in Bradenton, despite their corporate offices having moved to Chicago. Champs Sports, home to sports apparel and equipment, makes its headquarters in Bradenton as well. And Bealls outlet stores and department stores call Bradenton home.
Manatee County School District provides K-12 public schooling to the younger residents of Bradenton. The district enrolls more than 40,000 students and provides jobs to around 7,000 people, making it one of the county's largest employers. More than 30 elementary schools, 10 middle schools, and 7 high schools make up the district, which is run by a superintendent and a five-member school board.
There are also several private schools available to Bradenton residents, including:
South Florida Museum: Visitors can learn about the area's history from the Pleistocene era to the present with life-size dioramas and exhibits. Also at the museum, Bishop Planetarium Theater, with stadium seating, star shows and nighttime laser shows. Also on site is Parker Manatee Aquarium, home to the oldest living manatee born in captivity.
Manatee Village Historical Park: This park is dedicated to Manatee County's earliest residents. Two antique items include Old Cabbage Head, a restored 1913 train engine, and a general store from 1903. Visitors can also see the blacksmith's shop, a turpentine still, a smokehouse, a courthouse, and more.
Rossi Waterfront Park: Located along the Manatee River, this park sprawls along the side of the river, with paths that are perfect for an evening stroll.
Manatee Players: This pro-am theater troupe presents productions to groups for a reasonable price. The new theater includes meeting rooms, rental space, and banquet facilities in addition to the main stage production area.
Winter Wonderland: This three-day event celebrates the holidays. The Jingle Bell Run, typically hosted on the first day of the event, is a run/walk in which participants tie bells to their shoes before leaving the starting line. All proceeds from the run/walk benefit charities. Day two is the Holiday Boat Parade, when boats decorated with thousands of multicolored lights wind down the river. Winter Wonderland culminates with a kids' craft fair, live entertainment, food, and Santa Claus.
Get Down Downtown: This once-a-month party has become a city tradition in Bradenton, when Old Main Street is closed to host a variety of bands. Plenty of dancing plus kiosks of food, drinks, and other vendors replaces traffic.
Major League Baseball's Pittsburgh Pirates winter at McKechnie Field, just south of downtown, for spring training. Residents and visitors are able to purchase tickets to training games.