News Columns & Blogs

A decision not to seek cityhood & so much more

It has the heft and the tax base to make it a city. It’s got the rooftops and the businesses. It’s got the population.

But it didn’t have the support of the people.

After years of study and months of debate, the residents of Lakewood Ranch said “no” to taking the big step toward cityhood.

In an August straw poll of residents to gauge support for cityhood, the measure failed 2,349 to 1,805.

Factors were a lingering bad economy and a determined attack on the proposal by the Friends of Lakewood Ranch group, which used the argument, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.

Keith Davey, one of the leaders of the pro-cityhood Incorporation Study Group, said the proposal would be put “on the shelf” indefinitely, but left the door open that it might be revived in future years.

The great cityhood debate was just one of many stories making East Manatee headlines in 2012, a year that had more than its share of triumph and tragedy.

The community was saddened by a Christmas night accident that claimed the lives of best friends Brett Wagner and Josh Rogers.

Family and friends said farewell to the Lakewood Ranch High School classmates on the last day of 2011.

The loss was accompanied by a widespread mourning and expressions of concern.

The community was also touched and saddened by the death of U.S. Army Spc. 4 Patrick Lay in Afghanistan.

Spc. 4 Lay’s death, coming just one month before the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was the first of any Manatee County resident in Afghanistan.

He was also the first Braden River High School graduate to die in combat.

In other stories of note in 2011:

n Premier Sports Campus opened at Lakewood Ranch and almost immediately began hosting a series of massive sporting events. In 2012, those events are forecast to have an economic impact of $62 million as soccer and other large-scale events are played, helping to fill motel and hotel rooms, and make cash registers ring in restaurants and stores.

Sports tourism is a growing trend in the Manatee-Sarasota area. Also helping put an infusion in the local economy is Nathan Benderson Park, located just south of the Manatee-Sarasota county line, which is becoming a major center for rowing.

Fort Hamer Park in Parrish was established as a rowing training center, and Palmetto and Southeast high schools launched rowing teams.

n There were big changes in Lakewood Ranch Town Hall with the resignation and departure of community manager Bob Fernandez.

After an extensive executive search, Lakewood Ranch supervisors hired Eva Rey of the Villages, near Ocala.

Rey brought a new focus on communication, openness and customer service to Town Hall.

Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, which already has schools of medicine and pharmacy at Lakewood Ranch, started construction on a new dental college.

The new school will not only provide dentists, but will provide dental care for those without the means to afford dental care.

LECOM says it will invest $52 million in the dental college project.

n In September, the Metropolitan Planning Organization, a regional transportation planning group, voted 12-3 to add the Tara bridge project back to its list of long-term projects. The bridge over the Braden River -- if it is ever built -- would connect Tara with the Palm-Aire and Mote Ranch area, and provide another north-south connector road between State Road 70 and University Parkway.

As a Bradenton Herald report noted of the Tara bridge at the time: “It was conceived in 1989, died in December 2010, was exhumed in January and revived Monday.”

Also going nowhere fast in 2011 was the proposed bridge at Fort Hamer. On the drawing board for well over a decade, that project remains bottled up in an environmental impact study required by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Why the Coast Guard? Because navigable waters falls under their jurisdiction.

n Lakewood Ranch enjoyed its best new home sales year since 2006. Hot spots were Country Club East and Central Park. In addition, the Esplanade neighborhood was launched in late 2011, north of State Road 70.

n Manatee Technical Institute started construction of a new campus near the intersection of State Road 70 East and Caruso Road. The site is just south of Braden River High School.

n Congressional and legislative redistricting is underway. Under the proposed redistricting, Lakewood Ranch would be divided between two state senate districts. Sentiment at Lakewood Ranch favored being in one district.

n Manatee County opened Tom Bennett Park late in the year near Interstate 75 and Kay Road.

n Faith Life Church of Branson, Mo., paid $6.4 million for an 82,000-square-foot facility on 10 acres in Lakewood Ranch Corporate Park and an equestrian estate nearby at Sarasota Polo Club.

The mega-church has not announced a opening date for the Lakewood Ranch worship facility, although crews have been working on the facility for several months.

n The Hunsader Pumpkin Festival cannon usually launches pumpkins.

But in early 2011 it fired volleyballs filled with frozen water to help demolish a house in Middleburg near Jacksonville for ABC’s Extreme Home Makeover program.

n Think of the band Blondie and you think of the CBGB club in New York. Herald entertainment writer Wade Tatangelo recently reported, however, that Blondie is set to perform at The Concession in East Manatee. The concert will be a benefit for Forty Carrots Family Center’s Firefly Gala on March 24.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 941-745-7021. Tweet to @jajones1.