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Promotional expert sees potential in NPR

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NEW PORT RICHEY - Bradenton once ranked No. 22 in an American Style poll of top destinations for art and culture lovers four short years ago, Johnette Isham pointed out Friday.Now the city ranks No. 2 in the nation among small cities.Isham, executive director of nonprofit Realize Bradenton, spoke about promotional efforts that helped transform an eyesore into a riverwalk, signed up 400 volunteers as "downtown ambassadors" and staged 75 community events during the past year."You are that kind of community," too, Isham said as she gazed out at some 50 to 60 participants at the New Port Richey Business Summit. Pasco Economic Development Council staged the event at Peace Hall, downtown.She believes New Port Richey has the same type of diverse support to employ similar methods here. The summit audience included business owners, government leaders and community organizers."I learn from others," the first slide in Isham's presentation read. The speaker said she studied 14 other cities to find out what works best when Realize Bradenton formed about three years ago.Inform and engage all types of people, Isham emphasized. In her case, she reached out to everyone from farmers to bank presidents to 12-year-old skateboarders. Realize Bradenton employs newspapers, TV stations, 14 social media sites and three websites to help spread the word about events. Isham draws on her extensive graphic design background as well.Powerful partnerships and relationships matter, Isham added. Her final step amounts to "more buzz, more people, more money."The riverwalk park serves as the biggest accomplishment for Bradenton backers, Isham said. The 1.5-mile area had been little more than a sand pile for decades."Young people created it and adults listened," Isham said about development of the riverwalk. A splash pad doubles as public art. Shaded seating counted among top priorities of residents. The riverwalk gave the downtown Bradenton area an "urban cool" image, Isham said.The centerpiece community gathering, Bradenton Blues Festival, is coming Dec. 7. It's the only event that charges admission, she noted. All other events are free.Organization of community events requires lots of detail, Isham observed. She recalled she once penned a list with 450 tasks to put on a recent show.Fielding questions, Isham acknowledged that Bradenton, with a population of about 49,000, probably is more ethnically diverse and younger than New Port Richey.Some serendipity has been involved in the work of Realize Bradenton, Isham said. She has become the "Energizer Bunny cheerleader" for all things Bradenton. "We couldn't do it alone," Isham responded to another question. New Port Richey appears to have a similar base of involved supporters, she observed."Every day is a party in Bradenton," Isham concluded about her approach. "Seriously, am I having fun today?"corth@suncoastnews.com(727) 815-1068

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