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How you can participate in Tampa's award-winning free tree program

If your home could use some protection from the sun or your neighborhood could use more character, the City of Tampa's Tree-mendous Tampa Free Tree Program is available to help.
 
The program was established nearly 20 years ago by the city's Parks and Recreation Department with the goal of improving neighborhoods and Tampa's environment. Over the last three years, the program has planted about 3,000 trees in the rights-of-way in front of or on the side yard of residential properties.
 
Earlier this month, the Tree-mendous program was recognized along with the department's Stay & Play Program by the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies for excellence in innovative programming. In a press release, Mayor Bob Buckhorn credited the tree program with transforming Tampa's "once bland urban landscape to a lush and vibrant green canvass that's revitalized (the) city."
 
So, how can a Tampa resident participate in the program? Brad A. Suder, superintendent of Planning, Design and Natural Resources for Tampa's Parks and Recreation Department, explains the first step is to contact the city through an online request. You can also call 813-274-7733, but the city prefers online requests because they are easier to track. The city will then meet with you to assess the planting site and discuss which variety of tree would work best.
 
"There are 12 trees currently available," Suder says. "Six species are appropriate under power lines and in open areas: Crepe Myrtle Natchez, Bottle Brush, Japanese Blueberry, Silver Buttonwood, Loquat, Geiger White. There are six additional species with no overhead height restrictions: Live Oak, Tabebuia Yellow, Tabebuia Purple, Loblolly Pine, Florida Maple, Bald Cypress. They are in 30-gallon containers and are 8-10 feet overall height."
 
You're responsible for watering the new tree the first year after it's planted, and you have to commit to a 90-day watering schedule that entails watering the tree every other day for the first 30 days, watering every other day for the next 30 days, and watering every three days or twice a week for the last 30 days. After the 90-day watering schedule, you'll be expected to water the tree at least once a week.
 
"Once the water commitment is obtained, the request is placed into a future planting schedule," Suder explains. "Currently, the program plants approximately 20 trees per week and is scheduled through the end of February."
 
In the future, Suder says the city hopes to expand the tree species that it offers, as well as the scope of the program. That means businesses and other open spaces could also participate, and watering responsibilities would fall to the department in some cases.
 
For more information, visit the Tree-mendous Tampa Free Tree Program online.

More trails for walking, bicycling coming to Pinellas County thanks to state SUN Trail program

The Florida Department of Transportation has awarded $44,345,430 to 45 projects across the state, and Pinellas County received $7,062,488 of that total.
 
The majority of the money earmarked for Pinellas, $5.7 million, will go toward the second phase of the Pinellas Trail Loop from John Chestnut Park to Enterprise Road in Palm Harbor. The rest, almost $1.4 million, will go toward the Ream Wilson Clearwater Trail from the Courtney Campbell Causeway to Bayshore Boulevard.
 
The money comes from the state's Shared Use Nonmotorized or SUN Trail program, which was established in 2015 and is meant to help Floridians enjoy safe, recreational opportunities. The SUN Trail network consists of the developing statewide system of paved, multi-use trails for bicyclists and pedestrians, physically separated from vehicular traffic.
 
The projects span 21 counties throughout Florida and include the construction of 11 separate trail segments, which will add or improve approximately 20 miles of trail to Florida’s trail system. Another 34 projects will be in various pre-construction phases of work, such as feasibility study, environmental review and design.
 
Pinellas was the only county in the Tampa Bay area to receive funding.

"Combining multiple trail projects into an integrated statewide system requires coordination and a concerted effort," says Robin Birdsong, SUN Trail program manager. "The two projects in Pinellas County highlight how funding provided through the SUN Trail Program can help agencies leverage local funds, close trail gaps, and improve safety while enhancing multimodal transportation options."
 
The two Pinellas projects are part of five total projects that will help advance the Coast to Coast Connecter a 250-mile trail system linking the Gulf and Atlantic coasts through Central Florida.
 
Seventeen other projects are part of the St. Johns River Sea Loop, a 270-mile trail system that will link several communities, including St. Augustine, Daytona Beach, Titusville, DeLand and Palatka.
 
The other 23 projects are for individual trail segments throughout the rest of the state.

How you can vote for best local architectural design in AIA Tampa Bay competition

Are you into local architecture? 

Maybe you really like the craftsman style of the Gulf Gate Library, the unique canopies of the Tampa Riverwalk or the futuristic aspects of the USF Health Pharmacy.
 
Whatever your architectural preferences, AIA Tampa Bay is inviting you to be the judge of its annual Design Awards competition. Through Nov. 2, you can vote for the 2016 People's Choice winner.
 
"This year, we have 51 outstanding projects vying for the honor of being recognized by the community," says Phil Trezza, president of AIA Tampa Bay. "This competition during Tampa Bay Design Week is important to our community because it gives a voice to the people who live, work and play in the buildings our members have designed."
 
AIA Tampa Bay is the regional chapter of AIA or the American Institute of Architects, the professional association for architects and those in the architecture field. The organization has been holding a People’s Choice Design Award program consistently since 2012. Last year's winner was Rashid Medical Complex by Gresham, Smith & Partners, which received more than 170 votes.
 
This year's entries have been submitted by local architecture firms, design-build teams, architectural interns and students. Voters can see a gallery of the projects online and vote for their favorite.
 
"When voting, people should consider more than building aesthetics," says Dawn Mages, Executive Director of AIA Tampa Bay, "they should consider how the building functions for its users and if it is sustainable."
 
The winner of the People's Choice Award will be recognized during Tampa Bay Design Week at the Celebrate Design awards reception on Nov. 3 at The Italian Club, 1731 E. Seventh Ave. in Ybor City. The event is open to the public and tickets are $55 for AIA members and $75 for non-members.
 
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit AIA Tampa Bay online or call 813-229-3411.

New nature-preserving neighborhood in Parrish sells out

A suburban community built in Parrish in Manatee County with an eye toward nature conservation sold out in September.
 
Forest Creek is a gated community between Tampa and Bradenton, near Sun City Center and Ruskin. It's owned and operated by private builder Neal Communities. It opened in 2005, offering 464 single-family homes ranging from 1,162 to 2,504 square feet.
 
Neal Communities has built more than 10,000 homes in southwest Florida with the goal of integrating houses peacefully with the environment.
 
"We have a policy at Neal to take our sites and to preserve more land, preserve important and significant natural features, preserve habitat, and we think that helps the people, we think it's part of our brand at Neal, and we think overall, it creates a better living environment for the people that live here, and also habitat for the endangered species," says Pat Neal, CEO of Neal Communities, in a video about Forest Creek.
 
The company set aside 45 percent of the community's acreage for conservation space. It also worked to preserve a large oak tree, moving a road to accommodate it.
 
"We then spent quite a lot of time and money making sure that Mr. Oak was healthy," Neal says in the video. "We've trimmed it, we've given some special fertilizer, some biological treatments, and it's much healthier today."
 
Forest Creek features a 1-acre bird rookery, observation deck, gazebo, nature trails, community pool, spa and fitness center, and an 18-acre lake for water-based recreation.
 
“Forest Creek is a classic example of how Neal integrates and takes into consideration the natural elements of a piece of land when we create a community,” says Leisa Weintraub, VP of Marketing and Creative Director at Neal Communities, in a prepared statement.
 
Realtor Jan Swift has lived at Forest Creek for more than two years and calls the community a "masterpiece."
 
"Once the gates open and I drive through, sometimes I say to myself, 'I can’t believe I live here,'" Swift says in the statement.
 
Neal Communities has neighborhoods throughout southwest Florida, including in Tampa, Bradenton, Sarasota and beyond.

University area of Tampa will get new park in 2018, kids' basketball league starts in October

Cooking lessons, a playground and a hiking trail are just some of the features of Harvest Hope Park, a new space planned for 20th Street, north of Fletcher Avenue, in the University area of Tampa.
 
The University Area Community Development Corporation announced last week that it received a $423,000 community development block grant from Hillsborough County, and raised $90,000 during its fifth annual gala to build the 7-acre park. The corporation's mission is to redevelop and sustain the at-risk areas surrounding the University of South Florida's Tampa campus.
 
Ground is expected to be broken on the park in November when lighting, irrigation, fencing and parking will be installed. A learning kitchen and community garden are already in place.
 
"Building a park in the heart of the community is about more than just a construction project," says Sarah Combs, the corporation's CEO, "it is about sending a message to the residents of the University Community, letting them know that we care about them and positive change is coming. This community has been promised many things over the past couple decades, and there will never be a more opportunistic time than now to unite and leverage our partnerships, to truly create a healthy and vibrant community."

The park will be completed in phases, with total completion expected in 2018. Once complete, it will feature a tilapia fish farm, hiking trail, playground and sports field.

"The Harvest Hope Park will be the beacon of hope this community needs, uniting residents, encouraging family unity, and most importantly, offering positive activities for youth and adults so they will begin to feel like this is their home, this is their community," Combs says.

In the meantime, the corporation is inviting children ages 9-14 to participate in an eight-week basketball league.

Registration will take place Oct. 3-14. Practices will be Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, starting Oct. 17, 6-9 p.m., depending on the age group. Games will be played on Saturdays, starting Oct. 22, between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. The cost is $45.

To register, call 813-558-5212 or stop by the corporation's center at 14013 N. 22nd St. in Tampa. 

Gobioff Foundation to launch creative placemaking program in September

A creative placemaking initiative is aiming to improve Tampa through the arts.
 
The Gobioff Foundation, a private family group that works to support human rights organizations in the Tampa arts community, is launching Treasure Tampa (T²) 8:30-10 a.m. on Monday, Sept 19, at The Vault, 611 N. Franklin St., Tampa. The initiative will include up to $30,000 in seed money for a creative placemaking project in the City of Tampa or the neighborhood area served by the University Area Community Development Corporation.
 
According to the National Endowment of the Arts, creative placemaking is the act of partners from public, private, non-profit and community sectors coming together to shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood around arts and cultural activities. The goal is to revive the space, improve local businesses and bring the community together.
 
The free Treasure Tampa (T²) launch event will include breakfast and an inspirational presentation about creative placemaking by Jamie Bennett, executive director of ArtPlace America, a 10-year project to position arts and culture as a core sector of comprehensive community planning and development.
 
"At the launch in September, we will be announcing more details, including the application, review panel and timeline," explains Neil Gobioff, president of the Gobioff Foundation.
 
Gobioff has been involved with the Tampa arts community as a patron since he moved to Tampa in 1995, and he became active in the community through Jobsite Theater during its first season in the late 1990s. He now serves on the Jobsite board.
 
Gobioff's wife, Gianna Rendina-Gobioff, is a Tampa native who has been a cheerleader in the arts community since her brothers were in art school at the University of South Florida. She was a founding board member with Tempus Projects.

"We both believe in the artistic talent that resides here in Tampa," Neil Gobioff says. "It is exciting to us to build great communities through artistic collaborations across multiple sectors."
 
The Treasure Tampa (T²) launch event is open to anyone interested in learning about and participating in creative placemaking. Space is limited, and registration is required. Doors will open at 8 a.m.
 
For more information, contact the Gobioff Foundation.

Outdoor public art adds to Tampa Riverwalk experience

There is a walkable outdoor museum of sorts in downtown Tampa, and it’s growing.   

When the latest segment of the Tampa Riverwalk is completed in June, two enormous public artworks will also be formally unveiled for all to enjoy. Water, not surprisingly, plays a role in both pieces, though they couldn’t be more distinct in aesthetic and material. Both artworks will be located under bridges serving functional, protective roles as safety barriers.  

“Tampa is a place where artwork is expected and presumed,” says Robin Nigh, Manager of Art Programs for the City of Tampa. “It is integrated; you can really tell the difference when [public art] is part of the design versus an afterthought. It’s just part of who we are.” 

The new artworks can be viewed by foot, bike or boat along the Riverwalk from Tampa’s Water Works Park to the Straz Center. 

Under the Laurel Street Bridge, one will find Woven Waves a vibrant ceramic steel creation with large-scale folded corrugations. The effect of the textile-like design changes with the viewer’s movement. Houston-based Re:Site that created the piece says on its website that they drew inspiration from Tampa’s cultural diversity, “bringing to mind the metaphor of a quilt.” 

The second structure, entitled Andante by artist Heidi Lippman -- an enormous, stunning work of glass -- will be located under the 1-275 underpass and can also be seen from the road. Nigh notes that because of materials used, digitally printed tempered glass, and the artwork’s east-west orientation, there is a constant change in how the site is experienced as the light of day changes. She characterizes the space as “soothing” and notes that the musically inspired piece brings “color and quiet to an otherwise typically massive FDOT structure.”  

This follows several other major refurbishments and new public artworks  downtown Tampa. Among them, numerous sculptures, mosaics and installations at the recently inaugurated Perry Harvey Park; Stay Curious at the Poe Garage by artists Bask and Tes One, and the refurbishment and relocation of the Yaacov Agam sculpture Visual Welcome to Bayshore Boulevard and America, America sculpture by Barbara Neijna to the south side of the Laurel Street Bridge.

On the City of Tampa website one can do a public artworks “web tour.” There are 68 sites to view. 

A better plan might be to download the Tampa’s Public Art After Dark map and take a tour the old fashioned way, discovering in person this open-air and open-to-all museum. The most recent additions, Andante and Woven Waves, have yet to be updated on this map, but now you know where the treasures are hidden. 

MOSI working on move to Channelside District

MOSI could be moving to downtown Tampa.

Tampa's Museum of Science & Industry (MOSI) is in the process of developing a task force to plan, design and raise funds for a new science center in downtown. The task force will be comprised of community partners, land use experts, philanthropists, museum master planners, scientists and educators. This news follows a vote at the museum's board of directors meeting earlier this month, which looked at a feasibility study to rebuild a new science center around Amalie Arena.

The move to downtown is part of Jeff Vinik's redevelopment plan for the Channelside District.

“One year ago, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik invited MOSI to consider becoming a centerpiece cultural institution in the new $2 billion development his company is creating in the Channelside District,” says Grayson Kamm of the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI).

Vinik has pledged financial support through his company Strategic Property Partners.

While it is still early in the planning stages, the downtown museum is described by Kamm as a “new, world-class, future-focused science center.” He goes on to say that the new site will also be environmentally friendly.

“The feasibility study called our current 300,000-square-foot campus on Fowler Avenue overbuilt, with countless inefficiencies,” he says. “Our new facility will be appropriately sized for our market and built with environmental sustainability in mind.”
 
If everything goes as planned and a new museum is built in downtown, the MOSI site at Fowler Ave would be closed and re-purposed by the county.

“Our current 74-acre site along Fowler Avenue is in the heart of Hillsborough County’s Innovation District, and there is potential to redevelop the land into something that could contribute greatly to the economic prosperity of the county and the entire region,” Kamm says. “Hillsborough County has not laid out any specific plans for the land.”

New bicycle/pedestrian path connects Clearwater to Safety Harbor in Pinellas County

Good news for local and visiting pedestrians and bicyclists as the city of Clearwater announces the completion of an extended path running along Bayshore Boulevard on the eastern edge of the city along Cooper Bayou and Old Tampa Bay.

The trail, which connects the Courtney Campbell Causeway to Ream Wilson Trail at Del Oro Park is expected to be completed by today, March 1st.
 
“Providing bicycle and pedestrian accommodation is important for multimodal transportation alternatives, economic development and recreation for the city,” says Felicia Donnelly with the parks and recreation department for the City of Clearwater.
 
Donnelly says this connection will be among several other pedestrian and bicycle trail unions throughout the city, including Duke Energy, CSX, Druid Connection, Landmark Drive and Belleair trails. The city’s master plan for proposed bicycle and pedestrian paths proposes adding over 25 miles dedicated to trails throughout Clearwater.
 
The Druid Trail, which is expected to be completed later this year, will be a four-mile multiple use section along Druid Road. It will connect to the Pinellas Trail and residential areas, as well as Clearwater High School and Glen Oaks Park.
 
The city hopes that the connection between the Courtney Campbell Causeway and Ream Wilson Trail will open up a traffic-free path for pedestrians and bicyclists from Cypress Point Park to downtown Clearwater and north to Safety Harbor. With the master plan, the expectation is the network of trails will link the beaches to the Pinellas Trail, which runs North to South through Pinellas County.  
 
The trail will be complete with two bike fix-it stations where bicyclists can fix minor problems to their bikes without having to leave the trail. The city plans to install six more stations along the trails by the beginning of the summer.

Tampa Heights neighborhood tour of homes on Sunday

One of the most popular emerging neighborhoods in Tampa is welcoming visitors and future residents to take a peek inside during the 14th annual Tampa Heights Tour of Homes on Sunday, February 28th.

The tour will include seven homes never previously showcased in the annual event, as well as some other new unique aspects.

 “We are featuring commercial property this year,” says Chris Currie with the Tampa Heights Civic Association. “The Rialto Theatre on Franklin Street will be part of the tour. I don’t think a lot of people have been able to get into see it, but it’s been undergoing preservation and restoration. We will also be featuring Hidden Springs Brewery and they are offering discounts on their craft beers to visitors of the home tour.”

The historic Tampa Heights neighborhood has been experiencing investments leading to quite a transformation including the recent additions of Ulele Restaurant and Brewery, Water Works Park and the Riverwalk Extension, which is expected to be completed by mid-year.

According to Currie, properties in the neighborhood where the Tour of Homes will be held are valued between $250,000 and $350,000.

For those planning to attend the event, the tour starts at the community center at 2005 North Lamar Avenue In Tampa. There is parking available at the community center and ticket sales -- $10 each -- will start at noon. Discounted tickets are available for purchase online. The tour ends at 5 p.m.

“The Tour of Homes is the single greatest source of funds for the Tampa Heights Civic Association,” Currie says. “100-percent of the proceeds go to the association whose goal is to better the Tampa Heights community.”

Innovative aquaponics facility in Tampa Bay to grow produce, farm fish

Looking for a place where you could get fresh organic fish, as well as produce free of chemicals and fertilizers here in the Tampa Bay area? Now, what if these fish and produce would come from a building and not the ocean or farm land?
 
That is the innovative concept behind Global Aquaponic Inc. (GAI). It is a concept that the company wants to bring to the Tampa Bay area..

The specific location has not been yet determined.
 
If you have ever taken a ride through ‘The Land’ exhibit in EPCOT at the Walt Disney World resort, you may have seen how similar systems work. Basically, it is an alternative way to grow produce and farm fish in a controlled environment without the use of pesticides.
 
“Aquaponics uses up to 90 percent less water than traditional soil-based farming and therefore preserves our fresh water,” Bradshaw says. “Chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers are poisonous to our environment; therefore we do not use any of those.”
 
Bradshaw goes on to say that although there is no start date as of yet, the facility can be completed and fully producing in one year from start to finish.  Which also means green job creation for the area.
 
“The aquaponics system will be comprised of two separate entities: a fish facility and a greenhouse,” he says. The fish facility will require two dedicated employees, a manager and an assistant manager, as well as one full-time employee. The greenhouse will require 12 to 24 full-time employees for the greenhouse bays.”
 
For more information on the company, visit their website.

Golfers tee up at newly renovated courses around Tampa Bay

As the weather cools, and snowbirds and year-long residents alike get ready to hit the tees, Tampa Bay area golf courses are sprucing up their greens for tee time.
 
Rocky Point Golf Course
 
Golfers are now able to enjoy the newly renovated Rocky Point golf course in Tampa, as it reopened last week, after a seven-month renovation to the course.
 
“The major renovation includes all new TiFEagle greens, new tee boxes, Celebration Bermuda grass that surrounds the new greenside and fairway bunkers,” says Bobby Silvest of the Tampa Sports Authority (TSA), which operates the course for the city. “The renovation also includes enhanced features, such as new retaining walls and landscaping.”
 
Silvest says these renovation plans have been years in the making. The $700,000 investment to the course is expected to bring in more traffic.
 
“All of these changes combine to make Rocky Point a course that is challenging and enjoyable, as well as very aesthetically pleasing.”
 
Copperhead at Innisbrook

The PGA golf course in Palm Harbor, best known for hosting the annual Valspar Championship, is scrambling to complete its $4.5-million restoration project before the big event in March 2016.

Renovations to Copperhead golf course include replacing all 18 greens and fairways with new grass, as well as a new drainage system, and improvements to sand traps. Wadsworth Golf Construction Company was brought in to do the mammoth project and is also installing a state-of-the-art sprinkler system that will conserve water usage.

Twin Brooks Golf Course

Located in St. Petersburg, south of downtown, Twin Brooks reopened recently after its $1.5 million-renovation. The course, which has been under city ownership for more than 40 years, had its grand opening celebration in November.

Through its renovations, the design went from an 18-hole course, to a 9-hole, par three course, which offers golfers more yardage and larger putting space. A new drainage system was installed, as well as a 7,000-square-foot platinum Paspalum putting green and a covered driving range.  

“The goal was to create a more open course that is playable and enjoyable for golfers of all levels, with quality putting surfaces, for a great value,” stated Jeff Hollis, St. Petersburg Golf Courses director in a news release from the city. “An improved practice area, along with a covered driving range tee will make for one of the finest practice facilities in Pinellas County.”

HART, St. Pete College team up on sustainability project

HART and St. Petersburg College are teaming up to find innovative solutions for more sustainable living. The initiative created by HART is part of the company’s Environmental & Sustainability Management Program (ESMS). Together with students from St. Petersburg College’s (SPC) College of Business the team has already started to implement a solid waste recycling program.
 
“The initial goal of the recycling project is to increase the landfilil diversion rates at two facilities from zero to 10 percent, and reduce the solid waste management costs at those facilities by 10 percent,” says Sandra Morrison of HART.
 
Morrison explains that the project is also part of the “Design for Six Sigma” HART project, which uses Lean Six Sigma techniques and tools to find solutions for the great amount of solid waste the company produces.
 
To meet all of these goals, college seniors from SPC enrolled in the Sustainability Management degree have been recruited to work on this project. Together HART environmental staff and SPC students are developing innovative ways to decrease solid waste management costs, quantify how much waste is disposed by passengers and improve resource optimization.
 
According to Morrison, HART not only has its doors opened to students for this current project, but will continue to accept students for future projects as well.

“Any individual student or group of students who are in the capstone course at St. Petersburg College’s College of Business can use our operations to conduct their senior projects,” she says. “HART has electricity, carbon, water, and waste reduction initiatives currently underway so there are plenty of opportunities for students to apply their skills in a real-world context.”

Waterline: New resort coming to Anna Maria Island, Bradenton

Waterfront suites, water activities and signature restaurant are just a few luxuries that will be included in a new resort coming to Anna Maria Island just off the Gulf coast by Bradenton in Manatee County.

The Waterline Resort, which will open in fall 2016, is the latest project for the Mainsail Lodging & Development team. The team is also known for their work on the Epicurean Hotel in Tampa.
 
This new project on Anna Maria Island, which is located just minutes from Bradenton, will offer guests both luxury and excitement.
 
“The resort will feature 37 stylish 1,100-square-foot, two-bedroom suites with gourmet kitchens, says Joe Collier, President  of Mainsail Lodging & Development. “Waterline’s separate beach club will offer exclusive beach access with kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, lounge chairs, umbrellas, beach toys and a ‘desalination zone’ for guests to cool down and relax.”
 
Collier, a graduate of Florida State University, says the resort will also offer 2,000-square-feet of meeting space, a signature restaurant and bar and a 50-slip marina.
 
“The Waterline marina will be the center of aquatic activity at the resort with boat slips for guests who arrive by water, charter boats for family outings, eco-tours, guided fishing excursions, sailing adventures and daily sunset cruises,” he says.  
 
Collier also notes that Waterline has already formed a partnership with the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium.
 
“Based on a shared commitment to environmental stewardship, Waterline is looking forward to establishing a unique, strictly educational partnership with the world-renowned Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium,” he says. “The educational partnership is planned to include a variety of eco-experiences and will enhance and enrich the overall destination experience for Waterline guests and locals alike.”
 
The Waterline Resort will be located at 5325 Marina Drive in Holmes Beach on the East shore of Anna Maria Island. For more information, visit the resort’s website.

De Soto National Memorial undergoes renovations, tech upgrade

The Visitor Center at the De Soto National Memorial near Bradenton, built as part of the National Park Service Mission 66 initiative, recently underwent its first major renovations since its construction in 1969. 

The renovation project took six months to complete and includes fresh paint and updated fixtures, the installation of a new welcoming station and front desk in the Visitor Center, and upgrades to the audio-visual system that plays the National Memorial’s park movie — a feature that Lead Park Ranger Daniel Stephens says is central to the park’s mission.  

Stephens describes the renovation as a “top-to-bottom thorough cleaning and across the board audio-visual upgrade.” The newly enhanced lighting, sound system, and 75-inch LCD television, Stephens says, is a “huge technological improvement” from the outdated projection system that was replaced in the renovation. 

De Soto National Memorial, 5 miles west of Bradenton, Florida, commemorates the 1539 landing of Hernando de Soto and the first extensive organized exploration by Europeans of what is now the southern United States.

During peak season, in the months of November through April, the park receives up to 50,000 visitors, many of whom Stephens says are seasonal residents who return to the park annually. 

“Several visitors said to us, ‘this place needs to clear out the cobwebs,’ and that was a wakeup call to us. While we’ve done so much to change the outward appearance of the park grounds, we’d never looked at the Visitor Center,” Stephens says.

“A national park is not a static entity. These renovations give the sense that this is not an old space: we do listen to visitor feedback, and we do change.”

Visitor Center renovations were completed with $5,000 in fundraising from the nonprofit group, Friends of De Soto National Memorial; $5,000 in matched proceeds from Eastern National, a cooperating partner supplying the park’s bookstore, and with funding from “America the Beautiful,” part of the Federal Lands Pass recreation program, which provided over $6,000 for the project.
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