Manatee County's renovated Historical Courthouse, new grounds a grand sight

May 20, 2014 

Today Manatee County's Historical Courthouse stands as a monument to preservation and a glistening welcome to downtown Bradenton. Last week's dedication of the new landscaping follows the recent exterior renovations to the grand Classical Revival-style architecture of the 1913 courthouse.

Interior work continues, though much has been accomplished.

Once restoration work on a large courtroom is complete, the building and grounds will give Bradenton and Manatee County a historical masterpiece.

The courthouse houses the office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller, where R.B. "Chips" Shore has served as clerk since 1978.

Interestingly, the grounds are now as historical as the courthouse. A new gazebo inhabits the same spot as the original one, which was removed in 1920.

Only native Florida plants -- selected for historical accuracy and drought resistance -- grace the city's new "front yard," including cabbage palm, red maple, gumbo-limbo, dahoon holly and various wildflowers among others.

The pleasing design features meandering paths of shell-crete and brick paver entrances.

The plentiful benches and picnic tables, some with built-in game boards for chess and checkers, further invite the public to enjoy the ambience.

Credit a volunteer for leading the landscaping project, from her proposal to her father, "Chips" Shore, five years ago. Cindy Shore brought a background in landscape design and passion for Manatee County (as a fifth-generation native) to the effort.

Bradenton now has another stepping stone from downtown into Village of the Arts, a more pleasant stroll for residents and visitors. "I think we've done a really good service for the city," Shore said while guiding a tour of his much-improved courthouse and grounds.

We heartily agree.

A stretch of the Sixth Avenue West grounds await landscaping, while construction crews work on second-floor renovations and use the area as a staging spot.

The passageway between the county's Judicial Center and the Historical Courthouse now holds a Law Enforcement Memorial, a Veterans Memorial and plaques honoring the county's distinguished citizens.

Taxpayers should appreciate this: Not a single penny of county property tax revenue went into either building renovations or landscaping.

Shore managed to foot the bill out of the clerk's budget (thanks in part to the Legislature's increase in fees for all manner of services).

Shore also is saving a bundle on operating costs. With new double-paned windows and improved air conditioning, the clerk dropped the electrical cost from $181,210 in 2010 to $74,706 in 2012. The Energy Performance Rating soared from 34 to 93 out of 100, earning the EPA's Energy Star.

He also remodeled the first floor so every employee's desk faces the public counter -- thus, reducing wait times and increasing customer service. Cheers to this improvement, too.

The exterior historical beautification is something to behold, offering a fresh, commanding presence in downtown.

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