Community improvement projects in Manatee address need for veterans services, trails and sewer
Major community improvement projects to build a new homeless veterans transitional facility, a multi-purpose trail to connect Hillsborough County to Sarasota, and install sewage infrastructure in underserved communities are heading to Manatee County.
The three initiatives headline Manatee's plans for the county's $78.3 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds.
The County Commission allocated just under $43 million for public health and safety, government, and administrative costs associated with COVID-19, and plans on using the remaining $35.3 million for the community improvement projects.
"The intent of it is to invest dollars into infrastructure and sustainable projects -- parks, trails, sidewalks, things like that -- to help communities recover from the devastating impact of now going on two years of a pandemic," County Administrator Scott Hopes said.
Transitional services for homeless veterans
One of the largest projects includes a $15 million allocation to convert the former Manatee County Jail in downtown Bradenton into a transitional housing and services center for homeless veterans.
Hopes said the facility would go a long way toward addressing homelessness among the veteran community, and he envisions a comprehensive list of services that could be provided if agencies such as the Veterans Administration were to become involved with the project.
"One of the services that I would like to see in this facility is that step-down care from hospitals to transitional care," Hopes said. "It is a massive amount of space and volume, that I believe we can utilize to create really the most comprehensive services for helping veterans who are homeless, leave homelessness behind them, but to actually help them at all these levels of transition as they go through life."
Commissioner George Kruse said the funds are not to fully renovate the entire facility, but the board agreed allocate the funding and seek additional sources such as state or federal funds to pay for additional costs.
"This is by far the largest project focusing on homeless veterans in the United States, and we believe that we will have numerous sources of funds from a number of entities," Hopes said.
Greenway Trail extension
Commissioners are also moving forward with a proposal that has been on the table for decades to build a trail in east Manatee that connects to trails in Hillsborough and Sarasota counties.
The board plans to allocate $1.5 million to building a portion of the Gateway Greenway Trail, and will seek additional funding to pay for the remainder of the project.
If commissioners are able to secure extra funding, they could connect a link between the three counties, and add an important piece of the puzzle for Southwest Florida's growing trail network.
"It's a regional project," Kruse said. "It connects Hillsborough to Sarasota -- which by extension goes all the way up to Pasco and all the way down to Collier, and once you get up to Hillsborough it goes straight across the state; there are two little segments near Orange that are being worked on."
According to 2017 county documents, the trail is likely to be in east Manatee County, crossing through locations such as Lake Manatee State Park and the Lakewood Ranch community. Potentially, it would connect to Sarasota's Legacy Trail, which is currently being extended.
"I think we can attract a tremendous amount of federal dollars and a tremendous amount of state dollars to facilitate this," Kruse said. "We have got the advantage of trying to move something as generational as this trail and as regionally important as this trail forward."
Tellevast and Parrish get their sewer
The county is also allocating a significant amount of ARPA funds to build new sewer infrastructure to underserved areas of the community, dedicating $5 million for sewer infrastructure in Tellevast, and $4 million for the Village of Parrish.
District 4 Commissioner Misty Servia, who represents Tellevast, said parts of the community do not have sewer infrastructure, and that the limited amount of rights-of-way create public safety challenges that could be addressed with the ARPA funds.
"There have been problems in the community, relative to COVID and other issues, because we just don't have the infrastructure there that we need, and it's been decades," Servia said.
District 1 Commissioner James Satcher, who represents the Village of Parrish, said the new infrastructure would help attract restaurants to the area, which is experiencing a population boom.
"If you lived in that village, you are not happy that there is so many new developments being built around, and everyone on your road," Satcher said. "There is definitely a legitimate concern that things around you have changed... The least we can do is set it up so they can have the sanitary sewer that we are talking about."