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East County Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019 1 month ago

Conceptual Lakewood Ranch park plans revealed by Manatee County

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Some residents hope amenities at the future Premier Sports Campus expansion can be delivered faster than county's timetable.
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

Some Lakewood Ranch area residents say they are pleased that Manatee County is moving forward with plans to create a regional park in Lakewood Ranch; however, they wish the project could be done more quickly.

Manatee County officials expect an expansion of Premier Sports Campus to be built over the next decade with final buildout in 10 to 15 years. Amenities including racket sports, softball and aquatics complexes will likely be built in phases as funding becomes available for the project, located on 74.5 acres north of the existing Premier Sports Campus, south of Rangeland Parkway between Post Boulevard and the future Uihlein Road.

“I like the plan, but I don’t like the timeline,” Lakewood Ranch resident Carol Lucas said. “I’d like it sooner than later. I know they’ve got to think it through, but I don’t want delays.”

On Sept. 25, county representatives shared a conceptual plan with the public. Manatee County has already begun planning a $10 million library — the first part of the project to be developed — but the remainder of the improvements will come in time.

Tom Yarger, the Manatee County Construction Services manager, said proposed amenities include playgrounds, an event bandshell and lawn, a racket sport complex, a softball complex with restrooms and concessions, baseball fields, outdoor trails and gathering spaces, a dog park and an estimated 23,000-square-foot aquatics center. Yarger said the aquatics center could include a competition-style pool as well as a splash pad and a separate “learn to swim” pool.

“This is just a general development plan,” Yarger said. “We’ve listed everything we could think of.”

Park planning consultant David Bishop, vice president of Ugarte + Associates, said the plan is flexible and provides a “plausible layout” for the park’s major components.

“It’s your first step in a hundred-step process,” he said of the conceptual plan. “It’s a good first starting tool.”

No amenity or structure has yet been designated for the 17-acre parcel at the northern corner, at Uihlein Road and Rangeland Parkway. Yarger said the county wanted to leave some space available for future needs or ideas not yet considered.

“It’s a nice location,” he said. “We want to save a little room out there. You never know what opportunities are going to come.”

He said everything on the conceptual plan is tentative, except for the library, which is expected to start construction in spring 2020. County administration and Manatee County commissioners will review the plans and public feedback before prioritizing amenities to be constructed.

“The only thing absolutely certain at this point is the library and the associated parking that goes with it,” Yarger said.

Yarger said funding for the project will come primarily from impact fees and revenues from the half-cent sales tax. Those dollars will trickle in over time, and amenities can be added as singular projects or in groupings, depending on funding and other factors. Each phase of construction will require its own master plan with approval from Manatee County commissioners.

East County residents who attended a Sept. 25 meeting said they liked the conceptual plan but preferred a faster timeline.

Lucas, an avid pickleball player, said the county could consider doing improvements in stages. For example, instead of building the entire aquatics facility, it could build the splash area, so families have a place to go until the pool is ready.

She and other members in the Lakewood Ranch Pickleball Club are especially eager for the county to construct the 8-acre racket sports complex, which is proposed to have 25 pickleball courts, eight tennis courts, locker rooms and concessions. There are no public facilities in Lakewood Ranch at which they can currently play, though Manatee County will be converting three of six basketball courts at Lakewood Ranch Park by the end of November.

Central Park resident Pat Kopcsak said she worries the proposed 24,000-square-foot library is too small but liked the other options on the plan.

“The amphitheater will be a big hit,” she said. “It’ll bring a lot of people closer together. I’m really excited to see how it turns out.”

Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said the commissioners have not yet seen the park’s conceptual plan, which is out for feedback from the public.

“At this point, they’re trying to get the design done,” she said. “The financing will be decided after that. I think we’ve got to make sure we all agree on the plan and how we want to move forward. That’s something the board has not seen at this point.”

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