As East Manatee grows, a new library and park could be in its future

Premier Sports Campus, 5895 Post Blvd., boasts 23 grass fields, a 3,200-seat stadium and several buildings on a 127-acre property.
Premier Sports Campus, 5895 Post Blvd., boasts 23 grass fields, a 3,200-seat stadium and several buildings on a 127-acre property. Herald file photo

Manatee County is looking east for the future.

The county bought Premier Sports Campus, a 127-acre sports facility located at 5895 Post Blvd., from developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch for $5.2 million in December. Recently, the developer offered up another 74.5 acres connected to the northern portion of the campus for about $4.25 million.

By a vote of 5-2, county commissioners approved an allocation of $60,000 for a consulting firm to design a master plan, which would go in front of the board before they decide whether to buy the additional land. Commissioners Charles Smith and Robin DiSabatino voted against the proposal.

In his "Back to the Future" vision, County Administrator Ed Hunzeker predicts that Manatee County's center would slowly crawl over to the east side of Interstate 75 within the next 20 years.

With this possible purchase, he envisioned that 52.5 acres would be dedicated to a district park, with the other 13 acres set aside for an "East County Service Center" that could include a new library, sheriff's office branch, tax collector office and EMS building, in addition to extending the reach of some county departments like veterans services, utilities customer service, neighborhood services and building and development services.

"All in all, it fits the bill for a long-term investment in the center part of the county for a regional government center," Hunzeker said.

He added that there's a lot to consider before moving forward with such a purchase, such as what pools of funds would be used in the purchase, where the buildings would go and if each are needed in that location. Hunzeker suspected that, if all goes well, construction wouldn't start until 2020.

"By allowing for us to move forward, we'll be able to do the planning, talk with the (constitutional officers) about willingness to move out there," said Deputy County Administrator Dan Schlandt, adding that they have two years to make this decision. "This would give us that ability to move forward."

Prefacing that he supported the purchase of Premier Sports Campus and projects that would cater to a growing population in areas such as Lakewood Ranch, Smith said he was concerned that allocating funds for another seven-figure project could affect the Lincoln Pool project in Palmetto down the line.

"You're asking me to go out on a limb," Smith said. "I can see it coming: 'Oh, we don't have the money for that.' "

DiSabatino expressed concern about the roads not being wide enough to support that new traffic.

Other commissioners thought that this precaution was "good, prudent business." Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, who represents East Manatee, suggested that the county buy the land and "sell it for more than we'd be buying it for."

"Let's spend the $60,000 to make sure we want to spend the option," Commissioner Stephen Jonsson said.