While Manatee County is examining the purchase of the majority of Mixon Fruit Farms as recommended by its Environmental Lands Management and Acquisition Committee, time could be a factor.
Charlie Hunsicker, the county's director of natural resources, told the Bradenton City Council on May 24 that the due diligence in researching the purchase could take up to 18 months before the ELMAC purchase is brought to the Manatee County commissioners for approval.
"I just about choked at that moment," Janet Mixon said June 2. "But Charlie told us afterward he doesn't think it will take that long."
However, Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said that the process is likely to be a long one.
"We have certain criteria we have to meet," Baugh said. "This has to be looked at and examined."
Result of referendum
Manatee County voters overwhelmingly passed a referendum in 2020 to acquire land for the purpose of environmental protection.
The referendum, approved by 71.27% of county voters, is dedicated to "finance the acquisition, improvement, and management of land to protect drinking water sources and water quality, preserve fish and wildlife habitat, prevent stormwater runoff pollution, and provide parks."
Approximately $7 million per year is being generated through a 0.15 mill ad valorem tax over 20 years, and the county also can tap into $50 million in bonds if needed.
Janet and Dean Mixon put their 39 acres, located at 2525 27th St. E., Bradenton, on the market in February for $15.8 million. The business opened in 1939 and the property includes a home, a store, a warehouse, a barn, a pavilion and pastures.
Janet Mixon said they have received offers from developers, but that she and her husband would like to be able to sell to Manatee County. She noted that it also is likely to take any developer almost as long to do due diligence on the property before finalizing a sale.
Hunsicker and Debra Childs Woithe, the county's Environmental Lands Division manager, have outlined possible uses for the property that would benefit the citizens.
Among the uses would be a site for environmental education, special events, bird watching and hiking. The county could ensure the Mixons' family history was preserved along with their relevance to the area's agricultural sector. The playground and wedding areas could continue to be used for those purposes. An animal rescue that operates on the grounds could continue to operate as a "small zoo."
The City of Bradenton's River Run Golf Course could expand to the property by building a driving range.
"We have to draft a concept map and initiate an appraisal soon," Hunsicker told the city council.
The Mixons are excited about the possibilities.
"We were surprised (about the county's interest)," Janet Mixon said. "We had been getting offers from the developers and we had the feeling that was our only option."
Another key part of the possible sale is that Bayside Community Church would be able to purchase the 3.6 acres in the southwest corner that holds the warehouse and the parking lot for its CityServe program.
"We like being a part of that," Janet Mixon said. "It is a good thing for the community. They needed a 45,000 square foot building and our (warehouse) is 60,000 square feet."
Janet Mixon said she wasn't sure if they had to sell to a developer whether they could have sold that part of the land to the church. But now they are going forward with that sale to the church with the hope that Manatee County comes through with its purchase of their land.
Although she expects the developers' offers will be greater than Manatee County can offer, she is hoping the county will come close.
She noted that it makes sense for the county to keep the pavilion and playground areas intact because those areas "are worth $4 million alone."
She also is glad to hear the county will consider allowing Damen Hurd to continue his animal rescue on the property.
"We were hoping," she said. "People love seeing the animals."
Business shuts down
Mixon Fruit Farms will close July 29, although they will continue to do weddings into 2024.
Janet Mixon said it just made sense to close now.
"It is slow now, and August and September are our slowest months," she said.
She is hoping that any move the county makes to preserve the historical significance of the property will include much of the antique machinery on the property.
"We have a lot of stuff," she said.
A key to the sale meeting the requirements of the referendum could be the property's 1,500 foot frontage along Glenn Creek. Manatee County maintains its importance to local water resources is high in preventing stormwater runoff.
Janet Mixon said that she and her husband are optimistic their property will continue to be a valuable resource to those living in Manatee County.
"Oh my gosh, we couldn't imagine the idea of them bulldozing everything," she said. "It was heartbreaking. (A park) would be our dream."
She said they would start a food truck in the near future.
"It is not a living," she said. "It is just about seeing the people again."
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.