Manatee County school district fiscal recovery depends on selling surplus land, including park

April 11, 2014 

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McKelvey Park was dedicated and named for Bob McKelvey, for his 38 years of service at Jessie P. Miller Elementary School in Bradenton. GRANT JEFFERIES/Bradenton Herald file photo

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One green, shady oasis sits along Manatee Avenue between downtown Bradenton and 75th Street West. The three acres of McKelvey Park lie on the north side of Jessie P. Miller Elementary School, providing a beautiful buffer from the hectic, heavy vehicle travel along Manatee Avenue.

But a cash-strapped school district looking everywhere for fresh funds discussed selling the valuable park land during a school board workshop this week.

A Tampa developer, Redstone Investments, dangled an unsolicited $1.8 million offer before the board, a tantalizing number, for sure.

But as the board heard, the district could possibly land even more money by putting the property out to bid.

On the one hand, development brings jobs, tax revenue and other assorted monetary benefits.

New businesses at this location could help pump more economic strength into Manatee Avenue.

On the other hand, McKelvey Park will be missed -- mostly by passing motorists since the park rarely attracts children and adults.

The school board's in a tough spot with this prime piece of property. But public opposition should be tempered by the district's financial needs.

But we'd caution the district about negative impacts from a land sale.

A strip shopping center could be built. How would that work? With parking in front, then the building, and then the rear -- with delivery truck access, dumpsters and who knows what else?

How close to the school would that come? How safe would students be with commercial activity so close?

Maybe that would work. All in all, though, desirable development should be sought with student safety paramount, as Superintendent Rick Mills indicated at the board workshop.

Here's an idea worth that might be worth exploring to save the park -- by possibly selling the land to Manatee County or the City of Bradenton.

Would the Southwest Florida Water Management District provide grant money to spare the land from yet more impervious surfaces exacerbating stormwater runoff? Could state money be obtained for a county or city purchase?

Under city or county ownership, improvements such as recreational assets would attract nearby residents.

The school board held quite a dedication just four years ago in naming the park after longtime Miller physical education teacher Bob McKelvey, although it is still not an official park.

He spent 38 years working with Bradenton children there -- at the old Miller Elementary, torn down from the current park site and replaced in 2007 at its current location.

In the scheme of things, the park is relatively new and lacks a strong tradition of neighborhood use. Unless a white knight like government purchases and maintains the park -- likely wishful thinking -- we'll lose that last green spot along Manatee Avenue.

The school district has sold off a batch of surplus properties already. The hard reality is McKelvey Park is simply too valuable for the district to retain.

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