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East County Observer thrives at 25 in the Lakewood Ranch area

The local newspaper, which celebrates a quarter century on Nov. 3 at Music on Main, has grown up with its readers.

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The East County Observer always has been about people.

And that means you.

For 25 years, the employees here at your local newspaper have tried to tell your stories, advertise your businesses, and generally give you an invaluable source of information.

We hope we have found a place in your hearts.

At the Music on Main, 6-9 p.m. Nov. 3 at Main Street at Lakewood Ranch, the East County Observer will have a double booth set up to showcase some top covers from over the quarter century. Please come visit with the many reporters, editors, sales people, and executives who will be on hand. Tell us what you think. We will be passing out some Observer swag.

To warm up for the event, here are some snips from East County Observer stories down through the years.

Feb. 24, 2000

Building a brand new world out east

Special report: East County communities

In commercial, retail and residential development, the bi-county area is experiencing an eastward shift. I-75 is no longer on the fringe of town, it is becoming the center of the region, the spine that feeds the network of houses and businesses from the Manatee River to Bee Ridge Road.

Nowhere is the area's massive growth more evident than in it's many and varied planned developments. Ranging in size from a dozen to thousands of homes, these communities offer everything from Panther Ridge's rustic lifestyle to the post ambiance of University Park. 

Feb. 22, 2001

Manatee landowners fear regulations

By Mischa Veira

Residents of Myakka packed the First United Methodist Church last week, many fearful that Manatee County might impose restructions limiting their ability to subdivide and develop property.

Manatee County Commissioners asked the county planning staff last month for a report on the consequences of limiting landowners' right to divide their property. Currently, a landowner in the unincorporated  part of the county can divide land as many times as they like, to a minimum of 5-acre parcels.

Jan. 3, 2002

'Beer Belly Bandit' sighted at Rosedale

By Michael Eng

Although he's scheduled to stand trial for 14 counts of golf club thefts, it looks as though the Beer Belly Bandit just can't contain himself.

According to Rosedale Country Club Security Guard Supervisor Roy Barker, the bandit, identified as 42-year-old Ronald Bishop, attempted a heist Dec. 17.

"He drove up, and I looked in the car and saw his beer belly," Barker said. ""I talked with him long enough to catch his eye and hair color."

Bishop was arrested June 21 in connection with 14 golf club thefts in several different country clubs, including Waterlefe Golf and River Club, University Park Country Club, River Club and Tara Golf and Country Club as well as Rosedale.

July 21, 2003

Immortalized: Known in the golfing world as "The Concession," Jack Nicklaus' and Tony Jacklin's legendary match is the inspiration behind the East County's newest golf club.

By Matt Walsh

One of the greatest moments in all of golf soon will be immortalized in the East County.

It's called, "The Concession."

For avid golf fans, it's unforgettable. For Sarasota architect-developer Kevin Daves. it inspired a vision.

That vision took a big step toward reality last week when Daves, his partners and their company, Concession LLC, closed on the purchase of 1,250 acres of pristine, oak- and pine-covered land in the East County. Sale price: $14.5 million.

July 29, 2004

Wal-Mart Supercenter opens on SR-64

By Brian McMillan

Paul Adkins beat the rush.

To earn the right to be the first customer at the East County's newest Wal-Mart Supercenter on SR-64, he got up at 3 a.m. on July 21 and was standing outside the store at 4 a.m. The next would-be customer didn't join him untl 6:15 a.m., all in preparation for the ribbon-cutting ceremony scheduled for 6:50 a.m.

July 7, 2005

Coyotes worry East County landowners

By Rob Brannon

At first, Ellian Rosaire's faily was a bit unnerved by the howling that rattled through the nearby trees and bushes at night or when an ambulance passed by.

Now, the coyotes have become part of life. What hasn't become part of life for Rosaire, owner of Rosaire's Riding Academy, and her neighbors just south of Fruitville Road has been watching their livestock steadily disappear. There's been the chicken and turkeys, and larger animals such as sheep, all food for the ravenous carnivores.

Feb. 16, 2006

Landmark Bank forecloses on DVA

By Rob Brannon

A deteriorating situation for DVA sports turned bleak last week after the company's lending institution filed for mortgage foreclosure.

Landmark Bank filed a claim on Feb, 8, foreclosing on an agreement originally made on July 20, 2004. DVA borrowed money from the bank to build its privately funded, $70 million 7,500-seat arena. The arena was scheduled to open in 2005 near State Road 70 and Lakewood Ranch Boulevard. But construction company Walbridge Aldinger walked off the site last February, leaving a drab wall standing alone on the property.

July 5, 2007

Polo Club home breaks sales record

This Lakewood Ranch single-family home broke the community's sales record when it sold for $6.9 million June 18.

Situated on 14 acres in the Sarasota Polo Club, the home features 12,000 square feet of living space, seven bedrooms and 12 bathrooms. The property also includes a guest quarters and a 22-stall barn.

March 27, 2008

Spoonman: Lakewood Ranch resident Jorge Gutarra earned first-place honors at this year's Art at the Ranch festival for his flatware sculptures.

By Michael Eng

Jorge Gutarra said a little prayer every time the van hit a bump in the road. It was 1979 in New York City, and Gutarra had climbed into the back of the vehicle with a larger-than-life, 200-pound sculpture of a turkey made completely from flatware. Fortunoff department store had commissioned Gutarra for the piece as a special Thanksgiving treat for their front window display.

The piece — Gutarra's second — took three years to complete. But as the van rumbled down the road, Gutarra's mind imagined the bird collapsing into a tragic pile of forks, spoons and knives.

July 16, 2009

The Benderson Boom: Marshalls and Pei Wei Asian Diner are just two of several businesses slated for the University Parkway corridor

By Pam McTeer

Casa Di Pizza co-owner Kevin Mann has had his eye on the University Parkway corridor for quite some time.

And about two months ago, the New York-style pizza maker opened a second location in Tourist Center Drive at University Parkway.

"We saw our business (at our location) at State Road 64 and the product we put out, and I thought it was a no-brainer," Mann said of opening a second location.

July 1, 2010

Balancing Act: The East County's top Realtors are making a bold statement: The market is balancing out. And halfway through 2010, they have the numbers to prove it.

By Pam Eubanks

Signs of economic recovery are beginning to show in the East County real estate market.

A Florida Association of Realtors report released last week showed sales for existing homes in the Bradenton/Sarasota area were up by 31% in May 2010 compared to the same month last year. Home prices in the area also increased by 6% comparatively with a median price of $166,000 (up from $156,600 in May 2009).

April 21, 2011

Losing land

By Pam Eubanks

As Summerfield Bluffs resident Tammy Kovar looks out her office window, she sees a view few other Lakewood Ranch residents enjoy: a serene glimpse of the Braden River.

But that view is changing. Since moving into her home in 1999, Kovar has lost 1 to 2 feet of land to erosion each year. Now the drop-off to the river that once was several yards away is only a few feet from her property line and home.

March 8, 2012

Happy trails

By Pam Eubanks

Cowboy legend Hub Hubbell, in many ways, was larger than life.

A rodeo icon who rubbed shoulders with Western stars such as Roy Rogers, Dale Evans and Clayton Moore during his career, Hubbell made his mark as sharpshooter, rodeo announcer and horse trainer who lived and breathed life as a cowboy.

Hubbell, 93, died March 3 on the back porch of his home on the Flying H. Ranch, off University Parkway.

Feb. 21, 2013

Ranch Little League fights for signs

By Josh Siegel and Pam Eubanks

David Dees wants boy to play baseball.

So does Manatee County.

But a debate about signage at Lakewood Ranch Park may leave the dugouts empty, in the future, if issues cannot be resolved.

As Dees, president of the Lakewood Ranch Little League, walks past advertising signs hung along the park's fence, he sees the only viable way for the league to pay its bills — advertisement.

The types of signs being used, however, as well as the way they've been attached to the fence, violate county regulations.

Oct. 9, 2014

Controlled chaos

By Pam Eubanks

When Todd Mathes drove to work one day last week, there were three traffic stoppers: a broken-down car on northbound Interstate 75 near University Parkway; an accident at Honore Avenue and University; and another accident at I-75 near Fruitville Road.

Mathes, director of development for Benderson Development, co-developer of The Mall at University Town Center, knows more traffic mayhem is coming as he, local officials and partners at mall co-developer Taubman Centers prepare for an estimated 100,000 shoppers on the mall's opening day, Oct. 16.

April 1, 2015

SMR plans hog wild boutique

By Pam Eubanks

In light of problems in Lakewood Ranch with wild boar over the last year, as well as residents calling trappers to remove alligators from Lakewood Ranch lakes, the community's developer has decided to launch a new division that will oversee the trapping and relocation of wild boars, alligators and other wild game.

SMR plans to relocated the animals to an agricultural parcel near the Sarasota Polo Club. There it will raise the animals to an optional weight, then harvest them for various uses.

Feb. 18, 2016

Still bullish on Ranch life

By Jessica Salmond

Standing in a 20-acre pasture east of Lorraine Road Jason McKendree remembered the days when he couldn't hear the sound of bulldozers working on a new subdivision.

That was a time the Mary Carroll Bridge was made of wood and the nearby section of University Parkway was a dirt road where he could easily drive his cattle.

Driviing cattle now gets complicated with street lights, stop signs and four-lane roads, but as manager of cattle operations for Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, the 40-year-old McKendree still has to get it done.

Aug. 31, 2017


By Jay Heater

As Central Park's Amanda and Dan Tullidge were leaving a fundraiser Aug. 26 at the IMG Academy Golf Club, they watched a number of cars successfully navigate a portion of El Conquistador Parkway that was submerged in water by a steady downpour that dumped more than 8 inches of rain in parts of Manatee County.

Both lawyers, the Tullidges surmised they would be able to make it through as well.


May 9, 2018

New heights

By Ryan Kohn

Lakewood Ranch senior Karen Kay Lyvers sashayed off the mat May 5 at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, swinging her arms and snapping her fingers.

Although the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 4A girls pole vault at the track and field championships wasn't technically over, Lyvers knew she had a lock on first place after she cleared 11.9 feet.

Aug. 29, 2019

County takes road project detour

By Pam Eubanks

Manatee County District 5 Commissioner Vanessa Baugh is hopeful delays in constructing the final segment of the 44th Avenue East  — from 44th Avenue Place East to Highland Links Street — could create more opportunities for roadway connections in the greater Lakewood Ranch area.

"My thought is we need to start working diligently on Lena Road," Baugh said.

Oct. 29, 2020

Aquarium's $75 million funding still in place

By Jay Heater

Although Sarasota County hasn't finalized its schedule of payments for its $20 million pledge to a $130 million Science Education Aquarium at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota, Mote Marine President and CEO Michael Crosby said on Oct. 21 the project will break ground Nov. 13.

May 20, 2021

No search for new administrator?

By Brendan Lavell

It was about two months ago when Manatee County commissioners were telling the public that a search would be completed to find a new administrator.

That was before Scott Hopes was selected as the interim administrator April 1.

On May 25, commissioners have set up a vote to appoint Hopes as the permanent administrator while cancelling the search that was promised.

Oct 6, 2022

Ravaged by the storm

By Ian Swaby

Most Manatee County residents breathed a sigh of relief after Hurricane Ian passed because of less-than-devastating damage.

But not those in Myakka City and its surrounding area.

The Category 4 hurricane, which relentlessly pounded the area Sept. 28-29, led to swollen rivers that swallowed homes, farms and livestock.

May 18, 2023

School District of Manatee selects superintendent

By Liz Ramos

Jason Wysong has been named the new superintendent of the School District of Manatee County.

The school board voted 4-1 to select Wyson, who is currently serving as the deputy superintendent for Seminole County Public Schools.



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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