A wave of promising progress in Palmetto; revitalization projects coming along handsomely

The City of Palmetto appears poised for a renaissance with an impressive array of revitalization projects either completed, under construction or in the planning stages.

n This month officials unveiled plans for a new 12-acre park surrounding the Palmetto Youth Center. This neighborhood beautification project will feature a preserve atmosphere with a manmade lake, restored wetlands and trails that connect to a linear park trail that wanders through the city. The park will be named in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

Of the projected $1.1 million cost, the Palmetto Community Redevelopment Agency and City Commission hope to secure a $500,000 grant from the Southwest Florida Water Management District. The wetlands would clean up stormwater through natural filtration and thus prevent pollution from flowing into the Manatee River, one of the primary environmental missions of Swiftmud. Construction could begin this fall with completion next summer.

n In April, the commission signed off on a $1.3 million low-impact development project along Fifth Street West between Ninth and 10th avenues in the heart of downtown. With new streetscaping, parking and lighting, the project is designed to "reduce existing slum and blight" while enhancing the block's aesthetics. Construction is under way with completion expected by late September. With the improvements, the CRA will offer small lots in the block to developers for either commercial or residential units.

n At the same time, commissioners broke ground on Sutton Park renovations. The first phase of the $1.2 million overhaul should be finished in time for the Fourth of July festivities, providing a new bandstand, lighting and sidewalks. Other improvements will be completed over the next four years. The Veterans Memorial will be moved from its out-of-the-wayerch by the Green Bridge to Sutton, a more appropriate setting since the park honors Palmetto veterans and is named after a Vietnam War casualty.

n In March, the city celebrated the opening of Splashground at Lincoln Park. The $1.7 million Manatee County project not only created a splash park with geysers, jets and interactive equipment, the park now features a new picnic pavilion, restrooms and playground equipment. The CRA hosted the city's first Multicultural Festival on the same day.

n Now the city is proposing a variety of grander downtown improvements from the Green Bridge north to the Manatee County transit station. The goal is to improve mobility and attract businesses in order to revitalize the city's core. In the first of six phases, the city wants to install palm trees, decorative lamp posts, bicycle paths and pedestrian walkways.

At an overall cost projection of $7.7 million, this is quite ambitious. A funding partnership with the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization is critical. The MPO board is expected to decide in June on Palmetto's application, though construction would not begin until 2016.

One exception to all this remarkable progress is the thorny issue of Little League ballfields, suffering yet another setback this week as Manatee County abandoned plans to build the fields on land at Blackstone Park. Soil contamination from past applications of pesticides on former farmland would have to be remediated, too costly to undertake.

This project has literally been batted around for four years -- ever since the North River American Little League gave up its ballfields so the new Palmetto Elementary School could be built on the site. That commendable gesture has been costly to the league, which has lost more than 100 players since shifting play to adult softball fields, inappropriate for Little League. Manatee County and Palmetto owe the league not only a debt of gratitude but new fields posthaste.

All in all, Palmetto has accomplished much in pursuit of revitalization with more to come. Economic development should follow as the city's quality of life continues to improve.