BRADENTON -- New landscaping and other renovations will transform the grounds of Manatee County's historic courthouse and integrate it with other improvements in downtown Bradenton.
The project calls for war memorials that have long graced the courthouse grounds to be moved to its east side, sandwiched between the courthouse and its newer sibling, the Manatee County Judicial Center, said R.B. "Chips" Shore, county clerk and comptroller.
A Vietnam War memorial will be moved to Manatee Veterans Monument Park along Bradenton's Riverwalk, at the request of Donald Courtney, chairman of the Manatee County Veterans Council.
"It would be a more fitting place," Courtney said.
A new police memorial, a new veterans monument, and distinguished citizen footprints set in concrete will be installed along the eastern boundary.
The courthouse lawn will be replanted with native species, which require less water and care than those native to other areas, Shore said. All the plants will be like those that grew in the area when the courthouse was built in 1913, he said.
"When we're finished, it'll be all in Manatee County native plants, almost like bo
tanical gardens," Shore added. "It fits in with the city of Bradenton's Main Street and a walk that eventually will go through the plaza to the waterfront."
"It's pretty exciting," he said. "The city, the county, all seem to be pretty excited about it."
Work on the $698,964 project will start in mid-July and is expected to be completed in 60 to 90 days, he said.
The light brown 100-year-old courthouse, which only recently emerged from a multimillion-dollar exterior facelift, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Once a bus station that impeded work on the grounds was relocated, Shore grew serious about the renovation, he said.
A gazebo that can accommodate concerts will be placed on the west side of the property at 1115 Manatee Ave. W.
It will sport the duplicate of a historic dome that once graced the courthouse but was removed many years ago, Shore said.
Money for the project came from a variety of sources, he said. About $500,000 came from fees paid by attorneys filing foreclosure suits; about $40,000 was money left over from the construction of the judicial center; grants covered the cost of landscaping and irrigation; and Mosaic Co. donated $52,000 toward construction of the gazebo, Shore said.
"Nothing has been done to the landscape of the courthouse for years," Shore said. "Sidewalks were broken or crumbled and have to be replaced, the outside walkways were not (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant."
The grounds showed decades of wear and tear.
Shore recalled when he was a youth, a fountain in front of the courthouse steps housed live alligators. He even had a picture of the little gators, only 3 feet or so long, scrambling around in the water. He swore no one bothered the gators.
The courthouse sits upon land John Crews Pelot deeded in 1892 to Manatee County for $200, according to a Manatee County Historical Commission marker. The parcel was cleared for $62.50, and a new courthouse built, the first in what then was known as Braidentown. Construction of the present structure began in early 1913, and was built of reinforced concrete and brick by Falls City Construction Co. The single courthouse and jail facility cost $97,445.
Shore and Courtney are scheduled to appear Tuesday before the Manatee County Commission to discuss the courthouse grounds renovation plan.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.