MANATEE -- County officials Tuesday arranged financing and approved legal documents in preparation for what they hope will be a 150-acre expansion of Robinson Preserve.
County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said $542,000 in capital funds would be used to build an education center on the expansion site, which a nonprofit foundation is hoping to buy from the Robinson Family for $3 million before the end of the year.
The land trust, the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast Inc., is raising money for the purchase, and intends to convey the land to the county, officials have said.
"The legal documents today say if Conservation Foundation gets the land, the county will accept the donation, and give us a conservation easement on the land. It protects the land from development forever," said Christine Johnson, president of the foundation, based in Osprey. "And that's what we do, we save land."
Money transferred by the county from savings accrued on other projects includes
$249,620 from the Robinson Preserve Ranger Office; $267,281 from the Duette Observation Tower; $18,697 from the Emerson Point Visitor Center; and $6,402 from the Robinson Preserve Ranger residence, according to Natural Resources Director Charlie Hunsicker.
The board has already agreed to retain the name "Robinson Preserve" for both the original 487-acre preserve and its proposed 150-acre addition.
The land under consideration for the expansion sits just south of the preserve, which is along Bradenton's northwest edge.
Johnson said she had applied for grants and sought donations but declined to say exactly how much more was needed to close on the land by the end of the year.
She hoped for more help from donors.
"The Robinson family is extremely excited the county commission has taken this historic step today," said Will Robinson, a member of the Robinson family, after the commission meeting at County Administrative Center.
"This was a huge piece" of the deal, he said.
If the property is successfully acquired, improvements planned by Manatee County will include environmental restoration; and construction of an environmental center, trails, boardwalks, pedestrian bridges, a parking lot, restrooms, age specific thematic playgrounds, kayak and paddle trails, kayak storage facilities and signage, according to the foundation.
"This is a wonderful gift to, and an opportunity for, the citizens and visitors of Manatee County," said Hunsicker.
The Conservation Foundation can be reached at 941-918-2100, or at www.conservationfoundation.com.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.