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Manatee County still dragging its feet at Premier Park

A look at where Manatee County plans to build the amenities at Premier Park.
A look at where Manatee County plans to build the amenities at Premier Park.
  • East County
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I wanna talk about me, wanna talk about I
Wanna talk about number one, oh my, me my

OK, Toby Keith, today's column, to sum it up, is like your song, "I Wanna Talk About Me."

To put a fine point on it, it's all about what I want.

It's Christmas time, and I have made out my list. Please Manatee County, you can deliver. Maybe not under my tree, but just drop it off in the Lakewood Ranch area anytime in the coming year.

Let's start with Premier Park.

Oh please, let's start. Something. Anything. Is there life out there?

Wait, that's another song.

Premier Park pool? We have heard there is some planning going on to make this a reality. The project came to the surface in 2021. It was heralded as a great idea and targeted for a summer of 2024 opening.

It's now a combined racket courts and aquatic center project. The racket courts project originally had a target date to open in the summer of 2022. Those who like tennis and pickleball are now looking at a November 2024 timeline for the courts. The aquatics complex is expected to be ready in June 2026.

The county bought the Premier Sports Campus and an adjacent 36 acres in 2017 and then added another adjacent 75 acres in 2018. At the time, county officials talked about various plans for amenities. Commissioner Betsy Benac said at the time, "I think it's great we have the impact fees to do this."

If you have a son or daughter — let's say who was 12 at the time — who loved swimming but had to go to Sarasota or the west side of Manatee County to be on a swim team, you probably were celebrating. Of course, your kid is 18 now and getting ready to go off to college. 

Apparently, we don't have the money to build this park. We do have more than a half billion dollars in reserves and a pretty solid financial standing. Couldn't Manatee County borrow some money to finance the park? It's only going to get more expensive as time passes.

In case Manatee County needs some inspiration, the Great Pyramid of Giza (the largest in Egypt) was built in 20 years. Hoover Dam was built in five years. Mount Rushmore was completed in 14 years. The Golden Gate Bridge took 4 years and 4 1/2 months to complete.

Local inspiration? In 2018, Mote Marine announced plans for its $130 million Science Nature Aquarium. It's expected to open its doors late in 2024. And that's a nonprofit.

Those of us East County residents who have lived a little likely will be dead before Premier Park is finished. You can time the park's progress by blue moons.

But, you say, the Lakewood Ranch Library is opening in January. OK. I give you that, but I don't see the library as a park amenity.

In 2021, Manatee County presented a plan for, besides the library, a playground, a racket facility, an aquatics facility, a gymnasium, a baseball/softball complex, a BMX track, basketball courts, a skate park, volleyball courts and an event lawn.

A reasonable question is why can't the county build a playground, a baseball/softball complex, volleyball courts and an events lawn without letting a decade go past? Are we that poor of a county we can't afford these simple things? How about putting up a fence for a dog park?

If I was rating all the planned amenities that appear to be in limbo, I would say the gymnasium is the most intriguing, as long as it's an events center and not just a gym. Let's face it, our steamy summers curtail our ability to hold outdoor events. How nice would it be to keep our fun events flowing during the summer? It would keep Keith Pandeloglou of Lakewood Ranch Community Activities even busier.

The events center could be built with a retractable floor so the building could host concerts or large public gatherings. Or perhaps there is a way to cover a gym floor so it doesn't get ruined by non-athletic events.

How about a public discussion about a new gym/event center? Let's get the ball rolling.

We have hope in that new Commissioner Ray Turner of District 5 has been asking questions about why all these projects are stalled. It will be interesting to see if Turner turns up the heat in 2024 to get the recreational facilities that East County deserves.

OK, Santa, I have other wishes as well. How about some speed enforcement on White Eagle Boulevard near Pope Road? I get it, our Manatee County Sheriff's Office doesn't have the personnel to monitor all our roads, but this particular road has three schools and several new communities.

Those cutting across from State Road 64 to State Road 70 via White Eagle Boulevard treat that northernmost section of road as a drag strip. The cars accelerate so fast coming from S.R. 64 southbound that anyone who has to leave a community, or turn into one, is in peril. Please do something.

Yes, I do live off White Eagle Boulevard, but like I said, this column is all about me.

While we are on White Eagle Boulevard, let's talk about landscaping in the medians of roads, here and all over East County. Those driving northbound on White Eagle, and making a left turn onto Pope Road, are staring right at a group of trees (planted in the median) as they attempt to dodge speeding southbound traffic.

The trees look very nice, but they are too tall and limit vision.

The county does deserve a pat on the back for having adjusted other such problem areas, so I hope it will continue to evaluate our East County roadways to make them safer.

Last I want a Jack in the Box. so I can eat those greasy tacos. It is a guilty pleasure that I miss.

OK, now it's all about you, you, you. Send me an email to [email protected] and tell me what you want.



Jay Heater

Jay Heater is the managing editor of the East County Observer. Overall, he has been in the business more than 41 years, 26 spent at the Contra Costa Times in the San Francisco Bay area as a sportswriter covering college football and basketball, boxing and horse racing.

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