Side of Ranch: Jay Heater
Have you ever been walking on a public trail in a forest, and you come to a fork?
A couple of destinations are listed with arrows pointing in their direction, but your spot is not listed among them.
Yikes. It's a crummy feeling. Which way do I go?
Am I going to walk four miles and then find I am going the wrong way? Maybe I should just turn around and go home.
Monaca Onstad, the director of community relations for Lakewood Ranch Communities, knows Lakewood Ranch has a wealth of offerings, but she also understands some residents might be intimidated by the thought of going online and plotting their course.
She doesn't want you to turn around and go home.
Those of you who know Onstad, who took her current post in 2016, know her passion is getting people involved in her community. She only was on the job a year when she was named the "Lifestyle Director of the Year" by the National Association of Home Builders' National Sales and Marketing Council.
Onstad gets things done.
She knows certain intimidation factors can keep people from enjoying all that an area has to offer. Are you intimidated when it comes to finding information online?
Onstad believes that, indeed, there is an intimidation factor when it comes to finding information online. She also felt Lakewood Ranch could do a better job putting all its information in one internet basket, so to speak. So shortly after she joined Lakewood Ranch Communities, she started exploring the concept of building a new website, with all the directions clearly marked when you come to that fork in the road.
In November, you can welcome myLWR.com.
For the time being, Onstad is like an expectant mother who is overly excited about her big day. November can't get here fast enough for Onstad, whose labor has lasted more than two years.
"We want to show life in Lakewood Ranch to our residents," she said with pride. "We want to make things more visible, say to people, 'Here is everything we have.'"
Her objective is to present everything, and then some.
For example, let's say you want to rent park space, such as a pavilion, in Lakewood Ranch. In the past a resident would have to go to Lakewood Ranch Town Hall to ask about availability and pricing. Onstad wanted residents to be able to visit a website, check out all the availability and choices, see what dates were open and make a reservation without ever leaving home.
Onstad said a list of public rental spaces also will be listed in terms of pavilion availability or event space, such as if someone wanted to rent space at Harvest United Methodist Church in Lakewood Ranch.
Likewise, a resident wanting to acquire a dog park permit would have to make a trip to Town Hall. Now it can all be done online.
Imagine you live in Lakewood Ranch and see trash blowing around a neighborhood. You will be able to go on the website and mark the site on a Geographic Information Systems map. The site will be monitored so the appropriate action can be taken.
It would be the same if you found problems at one of the parks.
"We can track what issues are happening," Onstad said. "Let's say the Gravity Rail Swing (in Bob Gardner Community Park) has broken four times. We can address it."
The site will be monitored by Community Coordinator Mackenzie Straley, who was born and raised in Lakewood Ranch and is a Braden River High and University of Tampa graduate.
The site, which Onstad said eventually will be donated to the residents to run, will have trail maps of Lakewood Ranch (so you will know which way to turn at all the forks) and bicycle rout maps.
Need information from Manatee or Sarasota counties? One click on the site will get you to county information, such as law enforcement, EMS and health care.
Onstad said a big piece of the website will be a Lakewood Ranch community calendar, which will include, among many other things, all the Lakewood Ranch Community Activity events.
Want to know local issues? The site will have listings of Town Hall and community development district meetings and their agendas, along with listings of key information such as your county commissioners, school board members and local politicians.
"This is the nuts and bolts," said Onstad, who noted an app could be available as soon as January.
In order to get it to all come together, developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch hired web development companies such as CivicPlus, eDirectory, QAlert and Shopgate to do the design. It was a very expensive undertaking.
To pay for the proposition, Onstad will be offering local businesses featured listings. A business directory, which Onstad said is a key to the website, will be offered free. But featured positions and pages will be available as well for a nominal fee. Those who want to check it out can go to lwrbiz.mylwr.com, but the site is under development.
Meanwhile, Onstad will be visiting local businesses to tell them about her baby.