New Parrish group stirring interest in revitalization of historic village

PARRISH -- An overgrown field running along the railroad tracks and busy U.S. 301 could become ground zero for a renaissance in Parrish.

The newly formed History of Parrish Endeavor committee, spun off from the Parrish Civic Association, plans to clear and level the lot and erect a sign there announcing their existence.

It's a modest first step for ambitious plans to "put Parrish back on the map."

This week, chair Gretchen Fowler, vice chair Norma Kennedy, and group media guru Rob Kolanowski sat down in Cecil's Emporium, an antiques store at 12348 U.S. 301 N., to review plans that have sparked interest and enthusiasm.

Essentially, the group wants to hang on to the history and quaintness of the village, while adding cafes, artisan shops and small businesses that will attract visitors, whether they are just passing through, or stopping at the Florida Railroad Museum or Fort Hamer Park.

Committee members have gone door to door, recruiting residents and businesses to help out, seeking views on what locals want Parrish to be.

"There is a lot of concern about the Parrish bypass. We want to give people a reason to come to Parrish," Fowler said.

Parrish residents fear that once a bypass is constructed down 121st Avenue East, drivers will skip downtown and go directly from Fort Hamer Road to Moccasin Wallow Road.

Among the Parrish residents who have signed up for the grassroots effort are architects, web designers, landscapers, graphic artists, lawyers, bank managers and more.

"There is a ton of talent in the area. We're not waiting anymore. We have planted the flag and want to spread out from here," Kolanowski said.

The committee has also reached out to county commissioners, county planning official John Osborne and county public works director Ron Schulhofer.

Significantly, the committee attracted developers Pat Neal and Carlos Beruff to one of their meetings and won a promise of support.

"I thought it was great leadership provided by a group of people who want to maintain the heritage of the community," Neal said. "Parrish is a unique part of our Florida. I would like to see the center of the village improved, along with transportation and sewer improvements."

With two of his communities already open in the area, Forest Creek and Silver Leaf, and an even larger one planned north of Parrish, the Villages of Amazon South, Neal acknowledges he has a big stake in the area.

"The answer is yes, of course we're willing to help," Neal said, envisioning a village packed with inviting amenities and dining and shopping opportunities.

Rob and Becky Kolanowski and their partner, Jim Smith, opened Cecil's Emporium in January, but they are already pondering adding a second story that would be an artist's studio.

Kennedy, who has worked for years for the revitalization of Parrish, says response to the new committee has been overwhelming.

"The business people here kind of lost hope. If you don't have sewer you can't develop. You don't have a walkable area, and you have no street lights for safety," Kennedy said.

But the new grassroots effort is rekindling optimism, she said.

And harking back to the founding of the community.

"We want to retain Parrish's pioneer spirit. The great thing is that the history drives what we want to do with the future," Kolanowski said.

Between 1870 and the 1940s, Parrish was a thriving community with a school house, several groceries, general stores and packing houses.

Committee members, who are all unpaid, would also like to redraw the Parrish overlay district to make it more welcoming to new businesses.

The next meeting is set for 7 p.m. Aug. 24 at Parrish Baptist Church, 12125 71st St. E.

For more information, visit projectparrish.com.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter@jajones1.