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East County Wednesday, Sep. 1, 2010 7 years ago

Two park projects nearing completion

by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

MANATEE COUNTY — Construction of two new East County public parks are well under way with one set to open in about three months.

Manatee County officials hope to reopen the historic Jiggs Landing site as a county park in early December, and Holland Construction is pushing forward with site work on the 180-acre Bennett Park, located slightly northwest of the Walmart Supercenter on State Road 64.

Construction at Jiggs Landing began earlier this year, and the 5-acre park’s transformation now is largely complete. A boat dock and boardwalk along the water’s edge already are finished as well as two large picnic pavilions. In addition, an improved, two-bay boat ramp with parking facilities also has been open to the public for several weeks.

Charlie Hunsicker, director of the county’s natural resources department, said many of the park’s structures, including several fishing cabins and other buildings, are more than 90% complete. Major components should be finished by the end of the month.

Some interior finishes and water and sewer connections still need to be made, he said.

The county this weekend installed a board fence near the northeastern corner of the property, which has garnered some concern from nearby residences, Hunsicker said.

“The fence they are seeing is a county requirement to surround the Dumpster site and lift station location,” Hunsicker said. “We opted for a solid fence instead of chain link.”

The county will be installing landscaping in front of the fence to make it less noticeable, he said. It also will be installing landscaping throughout the park, primarily using palmetto bushes and pine trees, which were prominent on the original site and surrounding area in the 1950s, he said.

A public grand opening for the site is slated for Dec. 11.

“We have an excellent project management team who are county employees who are working (to have) on-time and on-budget construction,” Hunsicker said. “We’re very much looking forward to bringing the property back to the public.”

Jiggs Landing has been a fishing and boat-launching ramp since at least 1939, when it was owned and operated by Alphonso Metcalf, better known as “Jiggs.” The property sold in the 1990s and was purchased by Manatee County in 2004 for about $850,000 in hopes of saving it from residential development.

The Old Braden River Historical Society, a group dedicated to preserving the history of the river, will convert a replica of one of the site’s original cabins into a museum about the property.

As East County residents drive over Interstate 75 on Cypress Creek Boulevard, the view has drastically changed in recent months. On a 180-acre parcel on the west side of the interstate, bulldozers and other equipment are busy moving earth and preparing the ground for the future home of Bennett Park.

Contractors currently are working on internal roadways, stormwater systems, utilities and other infrastructure improvements that likely will continue through October, Project Manager Mike Sosadeeter said.

Manatee County broke ground on the site in mid-May, and the project, when complete, will be the first public park in the East County with amenities such as an Olympic-sized swimming pool and an amphitheater.

The project’s first phase, which will cost just under $2.5 million, will include one-and-one-half miles of nature trails, a fishing pier, a canoe/kayak launch, sand volleyball courts, soccer fields, picnic pavilions and play areas.

Construction of roads, sidewalks, a restroom/pavilion area and soccer fields are expected to be finished sometime in January.

The project’s second phase, contingent on funding, is slated to include a swimming facility with an Olympic-sized pool, basketball courts and an outdoor amphitheater with a lawn that can seat about 5,000 people.

Holland Construction began park design and permitting last October and began moving dirt onto the property shortly before the groundbreaking ceremony.

Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].

A burglary at the Jiggs Landing site in early August did not cause any damage to the park’s facilities or cause a delay in construction, Hunsicker said.

“It was certainly harmful to the contractor, but luckily it did not damage any of the buildings,” he said.

A Manatee County Sheriff’s Office report stated unknown person(s) entered the site either by climbing the locked fence or by gaining access by water and boat, and entered the ranger’s home, which was under construction. The person(s) used ladders at the site to enter the home, which is 17 feet off the ground on stilts, and stole various tools.

The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office has not made an arrest in the case.


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