Monday, February 24, 2014

Bradenton, McKechnie Field in running for Best Spring Training City

Fans watch the Pittsburgh Pirates play the Atlanta Braves at
McKechnie Field in 2013. Grant Jefferies/Bradenton Herald
McKechnie Field looks mighty spiffy after those $10 million renovations completed in time for last year's spring training. Those renovations put Bradenton in the running for Best Spring Training City.

USA Today sports editor Bob Nightengale selected 20 cities/ballparks for a USA Today Travel 10 Best poll with McKechnie Field/Bradenton making the list. Now it's up to people to vote for the best.

Baseball fans have until noon March 24 to cast votes. Visit the USA Today Travel site here to cast your vote.

Out of the 20, 11 come from Florida including Sarasota's Ed Smith Stadium, the Baltimore Orioles spring home that also had its own renovation. Ed Smith is currently in fourth place while Tampa Bay Rays' spring home at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte is in the lead.

McKechnie's renovation gave it more than 2,000 seats, more shaded areas, a 19,000-square-foot boardwalk, tiki bar and a reworked fan plaza to earn it both the Best Ballpark Renovation designation from Ballpark Digest and Design Excellence Award from Florida Planning and Zoning Association. After all the renovations, fans might never guess this stadium --  built in 1923 -- is the oldest spring training stadium.

A record 93,433 fans turned out last year to see the renovated ballpark and now with the Pittsburgh Pirates following up on a winning season, more are expected at this year's spring training.

Let me know which spring training stadium you think is the best and why below.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Bradenton's first LongHorn Steakhouse opens Monday

Photo provided

Bradenton’s first LongHorn Steakhouse is expected to open this morning.

The Darden Restaurant-owned chain will cut the ribbon at 10 a.m. before opening to the public at 4502 14th St. W. Crews demolished the former Los Cabos Mexican Restaurant to construct the LongHorn.

Rob Pere, a nine-year employee of LongHorn, will be the managing partner.

The 6,450-square-foot restaurant seats 240 people and serves steaks, seafood, chicken and has a full bar in its American West theme.

This is Bradenton’s first LongHorn and the two closest to here are in Sarasota on Fruitville Road and on the corner of Gulf Gate Drive and U.S. 41.

Regular hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and close at 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

If you haven’t been to a LongHorn in awhile, here are some specials they’re running:

Winter Peak Season menu – The winter Peak Season menu changes four times a year and features fresh flavors of the season. Guests can enjoy new items, like Garlic Mussels, Winter Brie Salad, Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto and Praline Pecan Butterscotch Pudding.

Chef’s Showcase menu – The Chef’s Showcase menu allows for some Executive Chefs’ culinary inspiration and creativity. The new menu currently features the Blue Crab & Meyer Lemon Filet – Flo’s Filet grilled and served on a bed of grilled asparagus, topped with lump blue crab and finished with Meyer lemon & smoky paprika hollandaise sauce. The second dish, Blackened Salmon & Cheddar Grits, features a hand-cut Atlantic salmon blackened and seared, served on a bed of creamy cheddar grits and finished with a citrus butter sauce.

Steakhouse Dinner for Two – For $29.99, diners have a choice of an appetizer or dessert to share; two hand-chopped salads and two entrees of your choice. Seven entrees to choose from, including the new Garlic Portabella Sirloin, Bacon Wrapped Sirloin, LongHorn Salmon and Grilled Chicken Stuffed Portabella, among others.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Fun with fake stores at new Mall at University Town Center

Mall at University Town Center's developer Taubman Centers is in the teasing business in their video renderings of the new mall.

Of course, the video animation folks had to be inventive so as not tospill all the secrets of what's coming. You will see Saks Fifth Avenue, Dillard's and Macy's in their appropriate places as the videos soars underneath the glass archway ceilings.

The video was released via Taubman on YouTube in May 2013, but somehow was buried among other renderings released by animation company Max Wave Media that featured a fly-over of the mall and Nathan Benderson Park last summer. Another rendering video previously released also showed something mighty close to a Bass Pro Shop, but that is more likely to be built on one of the Benderson-developed parcels east of the mall next to Interstate 75.

We only know of a few confirmed stores now including American Eagle Outfitters, Brooks Brothers, Oil & Vinegar and Smoothie King in addition to restaurants BRIO Tuscan Grille, Capital Grille, Cheesecake Factory, Kona Grill and Seasons 52.

Sure, it's likely that the Apple Store is coming, too, but we're not 100 percent on that yet.

In the meantime, check out the fake names of stores the animators decided to put in the video to give a flavor of the type of mall to open Oct. 16. You might recognize a funny knock-off name if you shopped on a sidewalk stand in New York or Miami.

I'll write down what my best guess for the actual retailers in parenthesis

Aux Bon Gourmet (Au Bon Pain though it would make sense for a Corner Bakery Cafe)
Design Studio
Mocha Cafe (Starbucks located underneath escalators)
Channel (Chanel)
Gantier (likely a perfume store)
The Bar
Cap (Gap)
Fashion Street (Font looks like a Charlotte Ruse)
Guchi (Gucci)
JJ Jewelers
Omar Viducci (Gianni Versace)

Colleagues in the newsroom remarked how much the mall looked like International Plaza, another Taubman-owned mall. To me, the cafe and table area by the glass elevators resembles Countryside Mall in Clearwater, without the ice rink, and feels a bit like the Mall in Columbia (Md.) that features similar stores on two levels. That mall is managed by the Howard Hughes Corp. and General Growth Properties.

It might be easier to watch the video and pair the names with the fonts on the signs if you're trying to guess what's coming. Keep in mind there are supposed to be more than 100 stores and half of them new to the Sarasota-Bradenton market. Many of the animated storefronts lacked names and some were duplicated.

What's your best guess to the stores inside the Mall at UTC? Share your guesses below.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Major League Soccer players, staff give Bradenton social media love

Major League Soccer players and staff are giving a peek into how they’re spending their time in Bradenton and Sarasota thanks to Twitter and Instagram.

Probably the most active team showing off the area is the Columbus Crew and its players. There are photos of the guys going for a beach run in team uniform, others hanging out poolside and visiting youth academy players.

Retired Columbus Crew player Frankie Hejduk is hanging out with his team as a brand ambassador (a front-office fan position) and the team’s official website posted that the avid skateboarder took some off time and visited a pawn shop to buy a skateboard before heading to the Riverwalk skate park, posting a short video on the Crew’s Instagram account.

Think about what happened. Hejduk won the MLS Cup in 2008 with the Crew and another one in 2011 with Los Angeles Galaxy and is a two-time Olympian and represented the United States at two World Cups. 

This champion decided like a regular skateboarding Joe to plop down some cash for a board and take a spin in a public park overlooking Manatee River with teens nearby. They perhaps did not know who was skating with them at first. 

The team puts out a video to expose folks to Bradenton and hey, not only is there MLS soccer here, but a skatepark worthy enough for a pro.

Beyond that, other players and staff on the Crew and other teams are being great ambassadors for the Bradenton-Sarasota area with their tweets and pics.

Crew players Tony Chani and Kevan George at Pier 22 on Instagram with fans giving the players some local dining tips, suggesting they go to Anna Maria Island Oyster Bar, Woody’s River Roo, BeachHouse Restaurant, Pacific Rim Sushi and Mixons Fruit Farms. A few other players spent one of their first nights in town grabbing dinner at Fav’s Italian Cucina on Old Main Street.

D.C. United athletic trainer Brian Gerlach posted some interesting photos of how a soccer team takes over a waterfront hotel. The United are staying at the Hyatt Regency and one of the conference rooms overlooking the boat docks is now a training room where players get massages and treatment for their bumps and bruises. I’m sure the players don’t mind the tropical view while on the mend.

Gerlach also gave United fans a tease, wowing them with Sarasota sunsets, time at the pool and kayaking on Sarasota Bay. Not a bad way to spend some down time between soccer matches.