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East County Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012 6 years ago

OBSERVED: Optimism abounds in new year

by: Michael Eng Executive Editor

For the past four years, the East County Observer has begun the new year with special editions highlighting the people and issues we believed would have significant influence in the East County in the following 12 months.

In the planning for each of these editions, we often worry whether we will have enough new faces and story lines for a fresh edition.

But we should know by now: The East County never fails to deliver on compelling content.

This year, we are excited to “Delve Into 12.” In the following pages, we chronicle a dozen different people and issues that promise to have significant impact in our community in 2012. We’ve run the gamut — from business and real estate to arts and sports — and offer what we believe is the perfect primer for East County news in 2012.

So sit back, grab a cup of coffee or tea and dig in with us as we “Delve Into 12.”

1. RESIDENTIAL REAL ESTATE. Dare we utter a new “R” word — “Recovery?” Yes, we do, and so do many of our East County homebuilders and real estate professionals. After a strong 2011, East County Realtors are excited for what the new year will bring.

2. FAITH LIFE CHURCH. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this Branson Mo.-based mega-church is how much information it has withheld about its expansion into Lakewood Ranch. The church quietly purchased the former Teleflex headquarters in Lakewood Ranch for $4 million, and according to its website, will begin holding services in the East County this month. However, its roots in the Word of Faith movement have drawn harsh criticism.

3. BENDERSON DEVELOPMENT. This East County-based developer already is responsible for bringing many much-needed retail and dining options to the East County, and it has no plans of stopping. Benderson now is planning smaller outparcel buildings for the University Town Center plaza anchored by Super Target. Benderson also hopes to start moving dirt for its planned mega mall.

4. NATHAN BENDERSON AQUATIC NATURE CENTER. And as you drive to Target or Best Buy, don’t forget that Benderson Development’s plans also include perhaps one of the East County’s most interesting amenities. By expanding the rowing facility to 2,200 meters, leaders hope to make Nathan Benderson Aquatic Nature Center the first in the United States to be considered a Class A international facility by the International Federation of Rowing Association.

5. BRIAN VOLNER. Brian Volner has a metal figure on the top of his desk that depicts a stick man dangling over the edge. “Risk is everything,” Volner says. And, as the new incoming leader for the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance, Volner’s courage should make for another strong and successful year for one of the East County’s most influential organizations.

6. RON LAMBERT. Lakewood Ranch High School Assistant Band Director Ron Lambert will take over one of the top band programs in the state when its founder, Bob Schaer, retires in June. Schaer definitely leaves big shoes to fill. However, if anyone is up to the challenge, it is Lambert.

7. LECOM School of Dental Medicine. Even with the building still under construction, the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, School of Dental Medicine already has received about 2,200 applications for the program and will welcome its first 100 students this year.

8. PREMIER SPORTS CAMPUS. In just eight months, Premier Sports Campus of Lakewood Ranch already has garnered international attention. The campus in December hosted the 2011 Development Academy Winter Showcase and Nike International Friendlies, which drew more than 21,000 soccer fans to Lakewood Ranch. This year, leaders Premier to bring more than $60 million into the East County’s economy.

9. BRIDGE BATTLE. As Manatee County continues discussions for both the Tara Bridge and Fort Hamer Bridge, residents in neighboring communities are prepping for war. Manatee commissioners maintain both bridges exhibit the kind of forward thinking required to keep traffic flowing. However, opponents argue the bridges are unnecessary.

10. REBECCA GUTIERREZ. With Premier Sports Campus and Nathan Benderson Aquatic Nature Center grabbing headlines as the hot new sports amenities in the East County, we must not forget our original — Sarasota Polo Club — and its new operations manager, Rebecca Gutierrez. With a lifetime rooted in the Sport of Kings, Gutierrez has an undeniable passion for polo.

11. VIKING CULINARY CENTER. Viking Culinary Center Manager Christopher Covelli calls the new business a “chef’s playground.” But it’s not just for him. From cooking demonstrations to classes to a venue for business presentations, Viking promises to add yet another dimension to life in Lakewood Ranch.

12. LYNDSY MCDONALD. Most business-savvy professionals would have balked at the idea of launching a boutique bakery in 2008. But Lyndsy McDonald is proof that passion — and hard work — can win in any economy. Since opening Pastries by Design by herself three years ago, McDonald has seen her business triple and has added 10 employees to keep up. Take that, recession!

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