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Bradenton, Florida -- Tucked between St. Petersburg and Sarasota in the Bradenton area is a quiet riverfront community that is awakening as a vacation destination with 2.8 million visitors last year and growing.

Tourism officials say the area's newfound popularity is part of a three-year trend with more than a $900 million economic impact.

Massachusetts residents Nancy and Dave Carmen visit Bradenton every spring.

"It's on the river and you have excellent museums," says Nancy.

"I like the laid-back atmosphere," adds Dave.

The Carmens are not alone.

"People find the area very rewarding -- a detoxifying environment," says Debbie Meihls, executive manager for the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Meihls says this is the third straight record-breaking tourism season.

Tourism figures show since 2011 the number of visitors is up 5.5%, international visitors jumped 30% and the total economic impact increased by 18.9%. Also, tourism related jobs spiked 12%

"I truly believe in the City of Bradenton," says Denise Tischida, co-owner of Motorworks Brewery.

Tischida opened Motorworks Brewery, a full production 27,000 square-foot brewery, earlier this year on Ninth Street.

"This is a marvelous city," she says.

Tourism officials say the downtown revitalization is paying off. The Riverwalk, along the Manatee River, has attracted the state's first F2 boat races next year. There's a new focus on the arts with the Da Vinci Exhibit. The city's first Film Festival is this week at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, plus a growing sports tourism, are all attracting visitors.

While larger cities have sports, the beaches, shopping, and the arts, some say Bradenton offers something they don't have that small town old-Florida feel.

"Everybody is relaxed, enjoying every day of their life. Bradenton offers that," Nancy Carmen says.

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