Manatee County approves buying land in Lakewood Ranch. Here’s how they want to use it

The Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch
The Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch

Manatee County commissioners unanimously approved the purchase of 75 acres of land north of the Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch on Tuesday.

That land will be used to build out Premier Park, which will consist of new sports fields, a new library and county offices. The county’s parks and natural resources director, Charlie Hunsicker, said the $4.6 million purchase came at a “deep discount.”

The county previously purchased the 127-acre Premier Sports Campus for $5.3 million last December.

County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said the land purchase was necessary for county planning, as Manatee’s population center has shown to be trending toward the east.

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The addition of a library and county offices would relieve the need to travel all the way to downtown Bradenton to handle county business, he said.

County officials also released a bubble map indicating tentative plans they have for the area, though an official master plan for the development will come at a later date.

Premier Park bubble Map.jpg
A preliminary bubble map of the 75 acres that county commissioners approved to purchase Tuesday shows the plans Manatee County has for the land. Highlights include a new library, an aquatic center and county offices. Manatee County

Hunsicker said the county’s plans for the land will “balance the east and the west,” referring to recreational services that are available at GT Bray Park in West Bradenton.

More specifically, Premier Park is set to include an aquatics center, an event lawn, a racquet complex, a gymnasium, a stormwater facility and more.

The stormwater pond, Hunsicker said, is part of what gave the county such a great deal on the property. That portion of the land will be owned by them, but will remain Schroeder-Manatee Ranch’s responsibility. The other discount they received came in the form of two free acres of land for the library to use, which was stipulated by a prior Development of Regional Impact obligation.

“This is prime value real estate at a substantially discounted rate,” said Hunsicker, adding that the purchase came out to about $65,000 per acre. “This is a very good deal for the library system.”

While the motion passed by unanimous decision, two commissioners expressed the need for additional commercial space in the area to fulfill a need in what will likely be a popular area.

“I want to be sure we don’t have 200 acres and nothing out there,” said Commissioner Charles Smith, who added that the county should look at inviting businesses to satisfy food and drink requirements for athletes and other visitors.

Commissioner Betsy Benac echoed that sentiment and said the county should continue “thinking outside the box” as they plan ahead.

“This is going to be a real community center,” she said. “We should look at the opportunity to incorporate commercial.”

Hunzeker explained that the proposed bubble map is only indicative of plans that have not been finalized. There will be commercial space, as well as undeveloped areas to tap into much later.

“This is going to be built over five to eight years,” he said. “Parts of the property will be left open for what the future generation might need.”