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Parks, police, infrastructure improvements highlight Palmetto’s coming year

There are some big projects planned in the city of Palmetto for 2019, some of which will be highly visible while others — like infrastructure — won’t be.

According to Jim Freeman, city clerk, a request for qualifications will be sent out Jan. 7 for the estimated $8.2 million new police station to be built at the site of the former Palmetto Elementary School on Seventh Street West. The city is using about $6.5 million generated by a voter-approved sales tax increase to help pay for a new police headquarters.

Discussions on how to pay the balance for the project area ongoing. The RFQ is due within 30 days and whoever is selected can begin the lengthy design process, but hopes are high that ground will be broken before the end of the year.

Another high-profile project is the planned 251-room Sheraton hotel at the Bradenton Area Convention Center. The Palmetto City Commission on Jan. 7 is expected to finalize the general development plan and the developer said he hopes to break ground by the spring.

The fate of the on-again, off-again Lincoln Park aquatics center and pool could make some progress during a Jan. 9 meeting between the Palmetto City Commission and the Manatee County Board of Commissioners at the convention center beginning at 5 p.m.

Manatee County approved $289,000 in July for construction services and design, but there has been a lot of back and forth discussion on what amenities would be included and how much the county wanted the city to contribute. That haggling will decide the scope and size of the project.

County officials said over this past summer they would like to have the pool completed by the end of 2019. Jeff Burton, Palmetto Community Redevelopment Agency director, said there are some negotiations left to complete, “But anytime we do a successful project with the county, it’s a good thing because it shows one of the few times the city and county can work together to remove slum and blight.”

Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant expressed confidence pool construction will move forward in 2019.

Parks in general, is something Bryant is focused on this year.

The city plans to invest about $1.7 million into its parks system in the coming years and has already approved $100,000 for new fire station-themed playground equipment at Hydrant Park.

Hydrant park design photo.JPG

Future funding includes $200,000 to remodel restrooms at Hidden Lake Park and the same amount for new bathrooms at Martin Luther King Jr. Park. The money also will be used toward recreational trails at Hydrant Park and other locations.

An additional $250,000 will be put toward the eventual construction and improvements of Connor Park, formerly known as the Edenfield property, which is 1.5 acres along the Manatee River on Fifth Street West. Work will continue this year to finish transforming the property from a brownfield to green space.

Funds are in place for stormwater engineering, which Burton said will take place through the first half of 2019. Other grants are expected, so, “We can’t begin construction until after October,” Burton said, noting he hopes to break ground by the end of the year.

Also for this year, Bryant said the completion of Hydrant Park and the replacement of equipment that had to be removed from Taylor Park are her top priorities. Hydrant Park completion is expected by the end of February.

There are more improvements planned for Riverside Park West. A statue of a seahorse is expected to be installed in 2019, paying tribute to the original seahorse building that occupied the park grounds. Plans also call for new bathrooms and potentially a bait shop and small restaurant, but Burton said there is more work to be done before that will happen.

The Florida Department of Transportation has provided $1.1 million to begin a study and design phase for the city’s trails system, which will begin from Riverside Park West and eventually connect to the entire parks system. Work is expected to begin on that project some time in 2020.

A floating day dock about halfway between the Riverside Park boat ramp and the fishing pier was expected to be completed by the end of 2017. However, the city is working on reconfiguring parking for the boat ramp that could be affected by the potential sale this year of a key piece of property fronting Eighth Avenue West near the park’s entrance.

The property was the site of the old Shell gas station that was torn down many years ago and has now been cleaned up and ready for sale. City commissioners are currently in discussions about prioritizing projects they would like to see go there.

Burton said once the reconfiguration of parking, as well as entry points have been determined, the dock location can be as well and it will likely will be constructed this year.

In another joint venture, the city continues to press the county on a promised dog park at the county-owned Blackstone Park. Bryant said she expects progress on it this year.

The Palmetto CRA took ownership of the historic Palmetto Armory Building a couple of years ago from VFW Post 2488, which will continue to be a tenant in the downstairs portion of the building. Extensive renovations are planned for the building in keeping with its historic architecture.

A new roof is expected to be completed early this year. The real history is on the second floor, where it used to be a dance hall and has a basketball court originally used by the Palmetto High School’s girls basketball team. The court is still there and renovations will include returning the second floor back to the residents as a new community center.

It has special meaning to Bryant whose three brothers served in the Army National Guard and where she and her family dropped them off to leave for basic training.

“Those are good memories for me,” said Bryant. “Especially since two of those brothers have passed.”

In 2019, construction will begin on a $4.4 million equalization basin at the waste water treatment plant that will ensure a smooth flow of water regardless of use at any point of the day.

“Every project we do is with an environmental consciousness for the future,” Bryant said. “We’ve invested a lot of money in the plant over the last 10 years. It’s not one of those pretty subjects, but it’s huge and critical to the entire city.”

Breaking News/Real Time Reporter Mark Young began his career in 1996 and has been with the Bradenton Herald since 2014. He has won more than a dozen awards over the years, including the coveted Lucy Morgan Award for In-Depth Reporting from the Florida Press Club and for beat reporting from the Society for Professional Journalists to name a few. His reporting experience is as diverse as the communities he covers.
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