MANATEE COUNTY — It was more than a decade ago when East County developer Tom Bennett cast a vision for a county park his children and grandchildren could use for generations to come.
And although Bennett died in 2006, his dream is finally coming to fruition.
Three generations of his family gathered on a grassy spot off Cypress Creek Boulevard May 13 as Manatee County officials broke ground on a 180-acre park named in his honor.
“This was a dream God gave him 14 years ago, and we are so pleased it’s coming about,” said Tom Bennett’s son, Richard Bennett, who lived on the land after college. “We know how proud he’d be.”
The first phase of the park will include one-and-one-half miles of nature trails, a fishing pier, a canoe/kayak launch, sand volleyball courts, soccer fields and picnic pavilions and play areas on land located just northwest of the Super Wal-Mart off Cypress Creek Boulevard and State Road 64. Phase 1 construction will cost just under $2.5 million.
Construction on the second half of the project is contingent on funding, but the county eventually will build basketball courts, a swimming facility with an Olympic-sized pool, an outdoor amphitheater with a lawn that can seat about 5,000 people, as well.
Cindy Turner, Manatee County’s director of parks and recreation, said the facility will rival any other in the county with its amenities, and its proximity to Interstate 75 eventually may lend itself to holding tournaments and other events at the property.
“This park is so needed in East County,” Turner said.
Craig Campbell, vice president of Holland Construction, the company building the park, said Holland has been concentrating on park design and permitting since October. It began moving dirt onto the property last week and expects to get its final construction permits by the end of the month.
Phase one will be finished in the first quarter of 2011.
At the groundbreaking, Commissioner Donna Hayes and others commended the use of public-private partnerships to move the project forward and save taxpayers money. For example, Ruben Holland Development, which is planning to develop a 372-home community called The Landings at Parkview just to the south of the project, has agreed to construct the entrance to the park, which also will serve its neighborhood.
Tom Bennett sold the property to the county about seven years ago at about one-third of its value. Manatee County purchased the property using a $2.3 million Florida Community Trust Grant plus more than $1 million in matching dollars from the county. County commissioners rezoned the property and approved a preliminary site plan in December 2008.
Contact Pam Eubanks at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tom Bennett, who was known for his entrepreneurial spirit, get-it-done mentality and one-line jokes, came up with the idea of turning the 180-acre parcel into a park for Manatee County residents in 1998. The county purchased the property in 2003, knowing then it would be years before it would be able to develop the property.
“It’s pretty much what he envisioned,” his son Richard Bennett said.