- February 3, 2021
It was just a few weeks ago Manatee County commissioners were debating whether to spend $10 million on a new shelter for the county's Animal Services Department.
They didn’t know a 38-acre plot twist was just around the corner.
Though nothing is official, the Mary E. Parker Foundation wants to donate the Bishop Animal Shelter to Manatee County, according to administrative trustee Bob Blalock. The foundation owns the shelter, which was founded by Parker’s adopted parents, Lillian and Edward Bishop.
The foundation is planning to donate roughly half of the 38-acre property to the county for the purpose of sheltering animals. It’s unclear what will happen to the other half of the property, an area that includes walking trails, but Blalock said any potential use must be animal-related.
“Bishop’s board could have gone anywhere and asked any animal organization to run their shelter with this large gift that they have given us,” Commissioner Carol Whitmore said. “It's what, like $20 million in assets with the property values? They could have asked anybody in Manatee County or really any organization. They have been impressed with the direction that Manatee County Animal Services has gone with its animal welfare programs.”
There are two existing shelter facilities on the property. One is the recently completed, 25,000-square foot animal rescue center and isolation facility, which was built by Sarasota-based Willis Smith Construction. Its capacity is 68 dogs and 250 cats, and Blalock said the building was constructed so that it could easily be expanded.
“I don’t think there’s a better shelter in Florida,” Blalock said.
The other is Bishop’s original shelter, a 17,000-square foot facility constructed in 1958. It has a capacity of 68 dogs. Bishop Animal Shelter Executive Director Keith Pratt said Bishop had been planning to renovate the shelter and expand it to 40,000 feet. He added its drainage system needs to be updated and tiles are falling off the walls, among other issues. If the shelter is donated, it will be up to the county to decide what renovation or repairs will be necessary.
Blalock said the foundation decided it wanted to donate the shelter about two months ago. Aside from providing the county with shelter space it needs, the foundation’s motivation is saving money by eliminating its operating costs.
“It will free us up to spend the money that we're spending on taking care of the animals, the salaries and everything,” Blalock said. “We can spend that money on other projects that we have.”
County commissioners disagree on what the pending donation would mean for Manatee County Animal Services. Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said the donation, if approved, would definitively eliminate the need for a new shelter.
She wants to see the $8 million of county money pledged to build a shelter on county land near near State Road 64 and Carlos E. Haile Middle School in Lakewood Ranch steered toward the county’s Parks & Natural Resources Department, perhaps for the planned aquatic complex as part of the Premier Sports Campus expansion.
"The $8 million was taken away from the infrastructure sales tax for Parks and Natural Resources and moved over to the Animal Services,” Baugh said.
Commissioner Carol Whitmore disagreed with Baugh’s assessment. She said the planned central shelter in Lakewood Ranch is still needed to provide a more accessible location for the growing number of East County residents.
Whitmore said she has spoken with multiple donors who are still committed to contributing to local nonprofit Animal Network Inc.’s $2 million fundraising drive in support of building the Lakewood Ranch shelter, both through their own donations and persuading friends to donate. She also said it is possible the addition of Bishop Animal Shelter to the county’s facilities could mean the county doesn’t need the entirety of the $8 million pledged for the central shelter, which is still in the planning process.
Commissioner George Kruse said it is too early for anyone to know how the possible donation of Bishop Animal Shelter will impact the county’s Animal Services situation. He is still in the process of learning more about Bishop.
“Anyone who has a definitive answer to that question is answering based on qualitative gut feelings and emotions and not based on reality,” Kruse said. “It wasn't anticipated years ago when this $8 million was earmarked. It wasn't anticipated a couple months ago when the conversation came up about whether or not to rebuild on the current location or just upgrade what we've got. This is a major change. And now we all need to take a step back and assess this.”