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Sarasota Herald Tribune (Florida)


PALMETTO - For decades Palmetto area residents have contended that Manatee County, which operates three public swimming pools south of the Manatee River, should finally build a pool accessible for their families - especially those with children who need to learn to swim.

Today at 1:30 p.m., the Manatee County Commission will discuss the possibility of building a pool at Lincoln Park, 501 17th St. E. in Palmetto.

Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant intends to join that discussion. Although she is pleased her hometown may at last get that long-awaited pool, Bryant intends to express concerns with expectations that the city may have to pick up about a third of the construction costs.

"We obviously do not have that budgeted," Bryant said.

Last fall, the county administration came under fire when it suggested an aquatics center be built at Buffalo Creek Park in Parrish. It picked that site because the facility could be entirely paid for with park impact fees assessed on new homes in the still-expanding suburbia that Parrish has become.

Yet County Commissioner Charles Smith, a former Palmetto city commissioner, raised objections to the Buffalo Creek site. He cited meeting minutes and other documentation that prior county commissions, dating to the 1980s, made "promises after promises" that a public pool would be built in an area accessible to Palmetto residents.

Other county commissioners agreed and instructed the administration to find another site - either county-owned Blackstone Park or county-owned Lincoln Park, both in Palmetto.

Last week, Charlie Hunsicker, the county's director of Parks and Natural Resources, told the Palmetto City Commission that Lincoln Park at U.S. 41 and 17th Street East - which already includes a splash park for children age 10 and younger and other amenities - could be the site of a $3 million aquatics center with an Olympic-size pool suitable for competitions.

"It's a great location," said Smith, who attended the presentation. "It makes common sense to me ... Hundreds of kids are in walking distance. The park is heavily used and centrally located."

Smith said the park could also become accessible from railroad right-of-way the county is considering for a potential trail that could extend through Ellenton and Parrish.

Because Lincoln Park is not in an area where the county has been collecting park impact fees, Smith said, the county commissioners need to discuss tapping into other funding sources for the construction dollars.

He is hopeful the city can participate financially, especially since the county will assume the ongoing operating costs.

Bryant said some residents may not prefer Lincoln Park but "there's no way to make everybody 100 percent happy."

The site is strategic in that it would be accessible for many children from lower-income neighborhoods who are "in the greatest need of swimming lessons," Bryant said.

Yet the difficulty for Palmetto, Bryant said, is that the county is asking the city to contribute $1 million toward the project.

When city officials campaigned last fall to convince voters to approve a half-cent sales tax for county and municipal infrastructure, they did not include a swimming pool on Palmetto's "laundry list" of capital projects, Bryant said.

The sales tax will bring in about $900,000 a year for Palmetto over the next 15 years, Bryant said. The city would have to borrow against that revenue to come up with $1 million upfront for a pool and strike road and other infrastructure work it told the electorate it would pay for with sales tax proceeds, she said.

Bryant also noted that the city's Community Redevelopment District just committed $8.5 million to help finance the hotel to be built at the Bradenton Area Convention Center. "That hamstrings us" in regard to CRA assistance with the pool, she said.

In the discussion with the County Commission about the potential aquatics center, Bryant said, "I'm hopeful we can reach some kind of compromise - $1 million is too steep for the city of Palmetto."

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March 7, 2017


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