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Palmetto seeks help for baseball field project

PALMETTO -- As students filed into the new Palmetto Elementary for the first time today, city officials looked ahead to the next phase of a complicated relocation of public amenities.

Palmetto commissioners are eager to get started constructing four new baseball fields for the North Manatee American Little League near county-owned Blackstone Park. The league’s fields were displaced to make way for the new school.

But commissioners are playing a waiting game as tentative agreements with the Manatee County YMCA, county government and the school board have yet to be finalized.

Palmetto commissioners hope to get some answers today during a meeting with county commissioners and school board members. The joint meeting to discuss Blackstone Park and the related North River Swimming Pool proposal will occur at 5 p.m. at the Manatee Civic Center. It will follow a Council of Governments meeting that begins at 4 p.m.

The city hopes to firm up commitments as it chases $2.75 million in grant funding for the $4.8 million project, which also includes the relocation of 23rd Street and the extension of 10th Avenue from 17th Street to 23rd Street.

During a regular meeting Monday night, commissioners and city staff expressed frustration at the long wait. This phase of the project began in 2008 with a land swap agreement between Palmetto, the school board, the county and Manatee Fruit Co.

“It’s making me a little nervous,” Palmetto Commissioner Mary Lancaster said. “This is contingent on this, and that is contingent on something else.”

Though the YMCA has committed to building a new facility in northern Manatee County, it is planning a marketing and design study on Jan. 19 and 20 to determine if the building should go near Blackstone Park.

A $2 million Road Trust Fund Grant is contingent upon the YMCA locating near the park and new baseball fields.

Palmetto has $800,000 to contribute to the project from the sale of land to the school board for the new elementary school. But even with grants, the city is $1.25 million short of paying for the entire project without help from the county or school board.

“We’re the smallest dog in the pack, and we’ve been carrying the biggest load,” Palmetto Commissioner Tambra Varnadore said.