With Lakewood Ranch growing by leaps and bounds and a slowdown nowhere near, Manatee County government is wisely engaged in extending essential services to a population that will be key to our economic growth.
As developers put a greater emphasis on affordable housing to build an employee base for the rising number of East Manatee businesses and as families move in to take advantage of the community's many assets, the county's response is encouraging. A library and public transportation would greatly benefit not just Lakewood Ranch but the county.
The county's current improvement project at Lakewood Ranch Park, a 150-acre sports center with fields and courts for numerous activities -- and the intention to add amenities in the future -- reflects the importance of East Manatee.
The buzz about the Mall at University Town Center and its surrounding development grows daily as one after another popular retailer and restaurant commits to the mega complex, replete with plans for hotels, commercial and residential space. The project merits attention as the country's first enclosed shopping mall to be built since 2006.
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The expansive mall, with an October opening date, will transform this key gateway into Lakewood Ranch -- placing more importance on East Manatee as an economic engine.
One increasingly strong indication of that came a few days ago as the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine reported an astounding jump in the institution's economic impact -- a 112 percent surge in 2013 from a 2009 study. The $90.9 million total reverberates throughout the county.
The University Parkway and Interstate 75 corridor is also poised for a major road improvement with a state commitment to a $60 million intersection project.
Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc., the developer of the one of the nation's top-ranked master-planned communities, Lakewood Ranch, is forging ahead with major developments that focus on the New Urbanism concept of "live, work and play" within a neighborhood.
A library would be a valuable addition to that lifestyle. The Braden River Library, the only such facility in East Manatee, has demonstrated exponential growth since 2010 -- a 30 percent increase in attendance.
That proves public interest in a library, and that's well beyond checking out books and other materials. Computers are extremely popular as are educational and youth programs -- all of which reflects the evolving development of Manatee County libraries into community centers that serve a broad spectrum of interests.
A Lakewood Ranch library branch might not be center stage today, as indicated at Tuesday's county commission meeting, but the idea should advance.
Mass transit service out east is a more immediate need, one discussed for several years. Bus service to Lakewood Ranch would enable transportation-challenged Bradenton residents to consider new job opportunities there.
If approved in the county's 2014-2015 fiscal budget, the extension of bus routes along State Road 70 will link East Manatee and Lakewood Ranch Boulevard to Bradenton and Anna Maria Island. That would be a good first step toward serving a burgeoning community.
Manatee County's economy is improving, the population is increasing and growth is inevitable. We need visionaries leading this and other growth issues.
Just recall the courage of the county commission decades ago in approving the creation of the reservoir at Lake Manatee, a precious water source that not only serves this county but supplies Sarasota, too. Where would we be today without that water supply? In a world of hurt is where.
Granted, we're talking small stuff with a new bus route and library, but the future's fast approaching. While those two issues pale in comparison to the massive developments out east, Manatee County should be planning on more public investments there.
The long-awaited construction of a Fort Hamer Bridge is one such investment, possibly beginning soon.
Smaller assets matter, too, like mass transit and a library. These are the bricks that build a community one piece at a time.