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OUR NEAREST COMPETITOR Riverwalk offers concrete loungers under the shade with a breeze blowing off the water and plenty of people to watch. Bring a cooler! Photos by Stan Zimmerman BRADENTON EXPERIENCING JUST THE BEGINNING OF BOOMING TIMES By Stan Zimmerman City Editor In four days, Bradenton broke a mold. Long derided as a non-destination by Sarasotans, on Oct. 18 it opened what Bradenton lead- ers hope is a civic attraction that will draw one-quarter of a million visitors per year. While not a huge figure by Disney World stan- dards, that number of people coming to see the new amenities would provide a significant boost to downtown merchants and restaura- teurs — and provide "heads-in-beds" at the 1920s era downtown hotel which is under res- toration and appropriately renamed the Riv- erpark. A year ago, the 1.5 mile stretch along the Man- atee River from the Green Bridge to Manatee Memorial was just piles of sand and building materials. It is a dream 30 years in the making, at a cost of $6.2 million. Once known as "the sandpile," it is the site of strolling pedestrians. The linear park is set up like a necklace, with interspaced jewels, including a 24/7 skate- park, a substantial children's' playground and splash park, two outdoor performing arts spaces (one huge, one intimate), a kayak and canoe launch, a new fisherman's pier and an abundance of shaded places where visitors can stop to look across the water. As construction began last year, Bradenton Downtown Development Authority Director David Gustafson said, "When this is done, this

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