News Columns & Blogs

There’s sea change in East Manatee news

In the beginning, it was all about growth and development.

As the year 2000 dawned, one of the challenges of reporting news from East Manatee was keeping up with all the new neighborhoods being built. New bridges, new roads, new schools, new businesses. The pace was enough to make the head spin. It remained dizzying until the economy went into the tank.

Not that East Manatee had ever been a blank canvas. It was that the canvas was redrawn. It was filled out with everything from a new location to buy Krispy Kreme doughnuts to restaurants serving Russian, French or Japanese cuisine. That seemed exotic to anyone raised on meat and potatoes.

Maybe with the slowdown of the economy, there also has been a consolidation of these new communities, which are now much more about the people than the developers.

For example, East Manatee is making news like never before with all the new residents it has attracted.

Two Lakewood Ranch residents, Keith Stansell and Ken Quinn, have been in the international spotlight.

Stansell for surviving brutal captivity in the Colombian jungle for more than five years while he was held by FARC rebels.

Quinn for being part of the brave crew of the Maersk Alabama cargo ship which fought off an attack by Somali pirates.

A common denominator with both men is their upbeat personality, their ready sense of humor and love of family.

The Ranch also has quite the basketball cachet with sportscaster Dick Vitale and NBA referee Bob Delaney, both known as great motivational speakers.

The Ranch also was home to disgraced former NBA referee Tim Donaghy, who went to federal prison camp to serve a 15-month sentence in a gambling scandal.

Talk about the yin and the yang.

But more than that, I was struck this week by the breadth of the news from East Manatee. Everything from the Miss Braden River and Miss Lakewood Ranch pageants where young women bravely displayed their talent and poise to a rehearsal at Christian Retreat for “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” For more about that very polished and energized musical, visit

On Friday, news of the tuberculosis case at Lakewood Ranch broke.

One person has been diagnosed with the very treatable disease. Officials quickly alerted parents, students, faculty and staff at Lakewood Ranch High School and Nolan Middle School. It looked like a textbook example of getting the word out: automated calls to parents, communication over the school’s closed circuit TV and a press conference.

Some of the old-time canvas of East Manatee still survives. Just recently, cowboys drove a herd of 400 cattle across University Parkway. Those cow-driving days are numbered. Growth and development is far from done. A notable example this week was the grand opening of the 10,000-square-foot East Surgery Center of Coastal Orthopedics and Pain Management. And there’s much more planned once the economy gets on track.

The overall picture continues to come into focus, and it is rich, nuanced and interesting. Can you imagine the changes in the next 10 years?

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 708-7916.