PALMETTO -- After years of squabbling, planning and construction, county officials have set the date for a dedication ceremony inaugurating new Little League ballfields at Blackstone Park.
The ceremony at the park in Palmetto is slated for 6:30 p.m. May 27. A host of county, municipal officials and VIPs are on the invitation list.
"We're thrilled the time has finally arrived," said Derek Goforth, president of Palmetto Little League. "It's not even completely finished yet, and it's a beautiful park. Every other league is jealous."
"They're saying, 'Palmetto really got the best of this,'" he said.
The league numbers about 175 players, up from last year, Goforth said.
"With the new fields being a part of it, we're greatly anticipating what our numbers will be next spring," he said.
The $3.4 million project, under construction for more than a year, includes three lighted regulation Little League fields with covered dugouts and bleachers; a concession/
restroom/pressbox facility; security lighting at the concession stand, along sidewalks and overlooking the parking lot; batting cages; landscaping and irrigation; stormwater control system; and decorative entrance sign, according to Nick Azzara, county information outreach coordinator.
The concession facility flaunts a 50-foot flag pole.
"It's long-awaited, and certainly going to be a pride and joy for the community," Manatee County Commission Chairman Larry Bustle said Thursday. "I've been by many times to look at it. It looks very nice. I expect the league will be very proud of it and I look forward to some tournaments there."
Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant said she was delighted with the facility.
"I'm very pleased with where we are," she said.
Trevor Gooby, senior director for Florida operations for the Pittsburgh Pirates, said: "We're obviously excited to have the fields finished. We're dedicated to bringing baseball to the youth of Manatee County, and this is going to be a great facility for all the kids of Palmetto."
As part of the dedication, the Palmetto Little League's final game of the season will feature two north Manatee Little League teams playing the first game on the new diamonds, officials said.
The game will feature Palmetto's Snead Island Boatworks taking on Aldrich Flooring from Buffalo Creek Little League.
The league's former ballfields were eliminated after Palmetto city officials sold the land to the Manatee County School Board for construction of a new elementary school.
Over the years, various replacement plans fell through and Palmetto officials finally sought help from Manatee County to design and build the facility at Blackstone Park, 2112 14th Ave. W.
The county Property Management Department staff directed the project, which was designed by Stantec of Sarasota and constructed by Mulligan Constructors of Orlando, Himes Electric Company Inc. of Lutz and Professional Service Industries of Tampa, Azzara said.
Impact fees from the county parks and natural resources department will pay part of the cost, while Palmetto contributed $800,000 and the Pittsburgh Pirates Charities donated $75,000,
"The children of Palmetto have waited a long time for these fields, but I think once they see them and play on them, they'll decide these professional-caliber fields were worth the wait," said Charlie Hunsicker, director of parks and natural resources. "They've gone from having no fields at all to having the nicest Little League fields in all of Manatee County."