If you had offered me $100 to point to Bradenton on a map three years ago, you would still have $100 — unless you needed it for rent.
But the first time I crossed the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and saw the blue-green coast of Manatee County and downtown Bradenton, I knew it was somewhere I wanted to be.
Every single day I’ve been here, I’ve marveled at how easy it is to do just about anything, and how scenic the views are. To drive on wide, smooth roads to accessible stores and restaurants, passing by rows of skyscraping palms backlit by splashy sunsets.
How the only downfall is the sheer number of other people who want to be here too, and the developers who want their money, and, well, the flood insurance prices. And how that has consequences for everyone — especially the people least able to afford it and the living things that can’t do anything about it.
I’ve marveled at how the most complained about problems here are often traffic and parking garages. Having spent the previous decade in the poorest state in the U.S., those issues pale in comparison to theirs.
Manatee County is rapidly changing, and many born-and-bred residents bemoan the loss of Old Florida. I can see how enchanting the area was once, a sleepy and undisturbed paradise. And I see how sad people are that it may never be that way again.
But being in an area that is so coveted, that draws in so many people from so many parts of the world, also brings so much potential and talent and food and families that can also transform things for the better. After all, nothing ever stays the same anyway.
Change is constant, and it’s come again for me sooner than I expected. Home is home, and the northern Gulf Coast is calling me back closer to family. I will soon be returning to the magical city of New Orleans to be deputy metro editor of The New Orleans Advocate/The Times-Picayune.
I’d like to think I’m leaving the Bradenton Herald a little better than when I found it, an old Girl Scout habit.
In an industry where layoffs come like clockwork, our staff numbers have stayed steady and we’re currently hiring a breaking news and general assignment reporter. We recently hired a new public safety reporter, Michael Moore, who was born and raised in Bradenton.
We celebrated 100 years of covering Manatee County with some special coverage and an event for community leaders. We produced many award-winning stories, photos and videos, most notably for our coverage of Hurricane Ian.
One of the first things I realized I wanted to do was bring back high school football coverage, which Jason Dill is returning to in earnest this season. You’ll see him and photographer Tiffany Tompkins out at games each Friday night.
Associate editor Ryan Callihan, well known for his local government coverage, will remain to help guide the rest of the staff until a new leader is sorted. Ryan Ballogg will continue his excellent features and environmental reporting. And the reporter it seems everyone in Manatee County knows, James A. Jones Jr., will keep reporting on local business and development as long as he’ll put up with us.
And as always the team will continue to work closely with our friends at our McClatchy sister paper Miami, and I’m thrilled that Alex Mena recently was named Florida regional editor over Bradenton and executive editor of the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald.
I couldn’t ask for a better staff, and y’all are blessed to have them. I only ask that you send them your feedback. Truly, they want to hear from you as often as you have time to talk or send an email. Story ideas, opinions, comments, whatever — we want to hear it. Each story has contact info at the bottom.
Now before I sign off, I find it my duty to poke fun at Bradenton’s, let’s say, eccentricities. As a Southerner, it’s my love language.
So here are some alternate city slogans.
Where no two roundabouts are created equal
Where the water won’t kill you, but it may make you cry
Where the downtown is still quaint and any new buildings inspired by Sarasota or Miami are quite unwelcome, thank you very much
Where traffic is as thick as the gnats stuck to your skin on a summer day
Where we are definitely not Lakewood Ranch (but Lakewood Ranch is definitely in Bradenton, thank you very much)
Where the street names require a decoder (I may be alone in this but as a Southerner I’m used to streets named after people)
Where sea cows roam freely and should be protected at all costs
Formerly known as Bradentucky, now Bradenyorkjersey