Visible Men Academy pays $85,000 for Manatee County land so it can expand

MANATEE -- Visible Men Academy, an all-male charter school in the Pride Park area, has acquired land form the county to expand.

To celebrate, Visible Men Academy officials and two students who spoke Tuesday during the Manatee County Commission meeting, said they were going out for ice cream.

"This is beautiful for the students and families to know the future of Visible Men Academy and where we will be," said Cindy Cavallaro Day, co-founder of Visible Men Academy. "It brings future possibilities."

After much discussion, the commission approved selling surplus property at Ninth Street and 63rd Avenue East to Visible Men Academy for $85,000.

Commissioners Vanessa Baugh, John Chappie, Robin DiSabatino and Charles Smith voted for the sale.

Commissioners Betsy Benac and Carol Whitmore, who said they supported the school but not the county process, voted against the sale.

Benac said the county bought the property with the intent of having a community center.

"I have looked forward to when we would have this debate," Benac said. "My concern is we aren't being given an opportunity to have that debate. Without a process, how do I know what the community wants?"

Visible Men Academy has five years to receive certificates of occupancy for an expansion on the property, according to the deed.

Neil Phillips, CEO and principal of Visible Men Academy, said the school intends to build permanent structures on the property.

"Our aspirations are greatness for our students and great community contributions," he said.

The county acquired the land for $800,000 with proceeds from a now-disbanded community redevelopment district for a community center that was never built.

Baugh received a letter May 18 with the Title I charter school's offer to pay $85,000 for the property. The school, now in its second year at 921 63rd Ave. E., serves 93 boys with plans to educate 130 next year.

The proposal from Visible Men Academy was first brought up during the May 19 commission meeting. The unsolicited proposal from Visible Men Academy was not the first proposal received by the county for the property.

In January 2014, Gulf Coast Housing Partnership proposed a mixed-use housing and commercial development. At the June 3 commission meeting, County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said the proposal was deemed "unacceptable to the county."

Alison Hewitt, executive director of the Central Economic Development Center Inc., asked commissioners to have a conversation with the community to ensure the project "reflects the community desires, wants and needs."

"We are asking that there is a process that is followed," Hewitt said. "A process that allows for public comment."

DiSabatino said the county needs workforce housing but other properties in the county can handle it.

"Just not on this piece," she said.

Baugh told Hewitt she didn't want them to go away.

"There is other land here in that area that would be wonderful for an apartment building," she said. "I do hope that we can find another piece of land."

Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024 or at Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.