Manatee's 55-acre Conservatory Park under construction

skennedy@bradenton.comOctober 14, 2012 

MANATEE -- Construction has begun on a new Conservatory Park, 55 acres lush with wetlands, woodlands and a 10-acre lake.

Work on the $3.4 million property began in July and is slated for completion in February, according to Cindy Turner, director of the Manatee County Parks and Recreation Department.

Located north of University Parkway and west of Whitfield Avenue, the land's great tangle of brush and dense woods rises unexpectedly amid block after block of neat, manicured suburban homes.

"It's so unique because it was the last little piece left in suburbia," explained Candie Pedersen, design and landscape superintendent for the county parks department.

The park sits in a heavily developed area, with 14,345 residential units within three miles; 6,923 within 1.5 miles, and 2,401 within half a mile, according to Carmine DeMilio, parks operations manager.

"The ability of Conservatory Park to serve so many residents without dependence on automobile transportation is exactly what is needed today," he said.

Friday, Pedersen accompanied the general contractor, Lou Gaudio, of Quality Enterprises USA, Inc., of Naples, on a tour of the property with his team.

Last month, the Manatee County Commission approved a construction contract in the amount of $1,428,021.60, with a

120-day completion time frame, according to an email from Tom Yarger, the county's construction services manager.

Workers hired by the county had already started building the restroom/pavilion and a stand-alone pavilion, ahead of the contractor, he wrote.

Asked what some of the park's amenities would be, DeMilio was quick to tick off those items it will lack: No basketball courts, tennis courts, skate parks or climbing walls.

Rather, it is designed to be a quiet, passive haven with walking trails and a fishing pier.

Its neighbors have for years fought various battles with the county over what sort of amenities the park should have, and where its entrances should be.

When the latter issue was finally settled, officials decided the park's east gate would be at DeSoto Woods Drive, and a north gate at Conservatory Drive.

The east entrance will incorporate a roundabout and small parking area, while the north gate is designed with a roundabout and paved drive, supplying parking near an observation deck and restroom/pavilion facilities, he said.

"We've worked with three homeowners' associations, it was a true grassroots effort from the community," said Turner.

"The area was to be developed by Ryland Homes at the time; the community came forward and pleaded for a park in this area," she said.

In 2004, the land was purchased for $3.4 million, with half the money supplied by a Florida Communities Trust grant, while the other half came from a local matching arrangement, said Turner.

"We're finally coming to fruition," she said.

A neighbor of the park, Frank Schlauch, 86, said he was glad to have the park. But apparently not everyone feels as he does.

"I think it'll be a good idea," he said. "But a lot of people don't like it. I guess they feel there'll be too many people going in there, camping."

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.

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