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East County Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020 6 months ago

2020s vision: Multi-sports complex should be a hit by 2030

Manatee County says 10 years should be right to finish its regional park in Lakewood Ranch.
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

Bill Brockman and his wife, Virginia, moved to Lakewood Ranch in 1996, before Lakewood Ranch Boulevard even reached south to University Parkway.

The couple had seen plans for Lakewood Ranch with its downtown areas, movie theaters and other shopping and dining destinations, and they were impressed. If it turned out half the way they expected, they said, it would be great.

“They’ve gone way beyond what they said they would do,” Bill Brockman said.

Lakewood Ranch resident Stan Pearlman learns to play pickleball on a new court at Lakewood Ranch Park. He is excited about the idea of Manatee County building a pickleball/tennis complex at a future park in Lakewood Ranch.

Now, Brockman said he is excited to see what Manatee County will do with a 74.5-acre site north of Premier Sports Campus, south of Rangeland Parkway between Post Boulevard and the future Uihlein Road. There, Manatee County is planning to construct a new East County library, a regional park and possibly buildings for government services.

The new park will have playgrounds, an event lawn with a band shell, a racket sport complex that will include pickleball courts, a softball complex with restrooms and concessions, baseball fields, outdoor trails, a dog park and an estimated 23,000-square-foot aquatics center, with a competition-style pool, a splash pad and a separate “learn to swim” pool.

“I think it’s a great location to put a multiuse park in,” Brockman said. “I’d like to see it all developed tomorrow, but I think a decade is a good planning timeline to work with.”

Lakewood Ranch resident Stan Pearlman said he hopes the future park area can become a community-friendly spot with areas for groups to meet, good recreational bicycling trails, sports and fitness opportunities, and gathering places for concerts and events. Facilities for aquatics and tennis/pickleball, for example, should be big enough to accommodate regional tournaments, with room for expansion.

“This would be more of a mecca for Lakewood Ranch,” Pearlman said.

Charlie Hunsicker, the director of Manatee County parks and natural resources, said he likes the idea of the park being a community focal point.

Hunsicker expects all the anticipated amenities to be completed over the next decade. The site is expected to offer championship-level facilities and be designed for day-to-day recreational opportunities.

Hunsicker said the Lakewood Ranch area is full of communities, such as Del Webb at Lakewood Ranch, the Country Club and Country Club East, that have their own amenities. However, the park can become a gathering point for East County residents regardless of their neighborhood.

“[What] Premier provides is a gathering area people can identify with,” Hunsicker said. “This place can be a sense of place for all of us. G.T. Bray [in Bradenton] is that way. The potential is for Premier to become that kind of place.”

Manatee County hired contractor Willis A. Smith Construction in December to design and build a $10 million library on the site, but no other plans have been finalized at this time. Each phase of the park will be approved by Manatee County commissioners.

Hunsicker said the overall park site includes about 15 acres that have no designated purpose at this time. The area could be used for future government services buildings or for other recreational needs.

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