BRADENTON - For 85 years, the huge Manatee River Hotel -- nicknamed the ‘Pink Palace’ by locals -- has loomed over the heart of downtown Bradenton. Once the very essence of glamour and luxury, it has sat empty in recent years; but all that is about to change.
What a sight the luxurious hotel was when it first opened in 1925, the crowning glory of Bradenton. "It was one of the first buildings in downtown Bradenton to have electric lights, and they strung electric light bulbs up on the roof of the hotel and they had a roof-top garden. Bands would play, and dances would be under those electric lights, so you could see it all over downtown Bradenton," says Cathy Slusser, deputy director of Manatee County Historical Resources.
It was the center of the social scene, attracting many famous visitors. “Some people think that Al Capone may have stayed there."
Time passed, the Depression came and went, then World War II, the Vietnam War, and 15 presidents. The glamorous hotel lost its luster, became an assisted living facility, and slipped into disrepair. "It's been about 30 years since it was a hotel," says David Gustafson of the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority.
“It's been vacant well over 10 years with different developers trying to come up with a plan for the building. So we're so excited not just to see it restored, but to see it become a hotel again," says Slusser.
And now, after many false starts with previous developers, the historic downtown Bradenton landmark is now being reborn. It's surrounded by scaffolding as workers transform it into a 119-room Hampton Inn flagship hotel.
Historical preservationists are making sure it will keep its original look. "It's going to come back to the 1925 era. So the exterior, the outside of the building, and then the entire first floor inside and outside, is all going to go back to 1925," says Gustafson.
The original rooms were small and sparse by today's standards, so they'll be updated to the luxury and comfort of a modern top-notch hotel. "We will have king and queen suites and king and queen rooms as well," says Gustafson.
And they say the newly-refurbished hotel will attract visitors who have an interest in historic sites. "There have been studies that tourists actually come and stay in historic hotels. These tourists who follow and want to stay in heritage tourism sites or visit museums and cultural institutions, they spend more and stay longer," says Slusser.
"This is going to bring another 40-50,000 people into the downtown area that were not currently visiting the downtown," says Gustafson.
And the old so-called Pink Palace that many have also called a pink elephant, which has for so long stood empty and silent in the heart of downtown, will once more come alive and play a major role in the renaissance now taking place in Bradenton.
The hotel will open in December 2013, just in time for the Bradenton Blues Fest.
You're invited to a ground-breaking on Thursday at 4pm to celebrate the new beginning, the rebirth of the historic Manatee River Hotel.