The question asked on the giant sign that looms on the side of State Road 70 at Lockwood Ridge Road is intriguing:
"What is the 99?"
Billed as the "ultimate near-death experience," it's a traveling production that has set up shop in Bradenton as part of a national tour aimed at teaching teenagers about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse and other poor decisions that claim young lives.
Organizers say the name is derived from a statistic: An average of 99 young people between the ages of 10 and 25 die each day.
The nonprofit group behind The 99 has set up a 13-room, walk-through theater that portrays scenes like a crack house, a car crash involving teens who were texting while driving, and more. It's housed in a massive inflatable tent set up in the empty space in front of a former Winn-Dixie supermarket.
Stephen King, who does maintenance and security for The 99, said the crowds were awed by the production's realistic reenactments, put on largely by volunteers from local churches, businesses and organizations, when it opened in Bradenton last weekend.
"It's a pretty amazing tent," King said.
For a $3 cover charge, visitors can walk through the live displays, which takes about 45 minutes. At the end, the organizers make themselves available to minister to teens who want to talk.
The Bradenton production is open on weekends through March 10 before it heads up to Tampa and then Orlando, King said.
If You Go
Where: 4536 53rd Ave. E. (corner of State Road 70 and Lockwood Ridge Road)
When: 7-11 p.m. Feb. 24, March 1-3, 9-10
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