Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tour with Sen. Bill Nelson sees best and lingering worst of Lacoochee

LACOOCHEE — Sen. Bill Nelson stepped off a bus and made his way through a crowd of schoolchildren to see one of Lacoochee's newest and nicest homes: a modest two-bedroom place with a new Florida Gators chair on the front porch.

After dedicating two Habitat for Humanity houses, Nelson got back on the bus Tuesday morning with a gaggle of federal officials and saw some of the community's most ramshackle living quarters. The buses slowly passed by and one official whispered, "This is alarming."

The two-term Democrat, who also made a short stop at Lacoochee Elementary, said he wanted to get an update on redevelopment efforts in an area he "fell in love with" after he visited on a similar bus tour a year ago.

The remarkable thing about Tuesday's visit is that up until a few years ago, it would have been hard to imagine such attention from a major politician.

"We appreciate you being here," said John Finnerty, president of east and central Pasco's Habitat for Humanity. "It means a lot to us and this community."

Habitat is building eight homes on what was once a vacant lot off Coit Road that used to hold a one-room schoolhouse. The group plans to build 50 homes throughout Lacoochee over the next several years.

George Romagnoli, the county's community development director, said the new homes will "help make Lacoochee what it once was."

Back in the day, it was a thriving mill town. But it never really recovered when the Cummer Cypress Co. sawmill closed in 1959. Many civic leaders began paying more attention to the area in 2003, after sheriff's Lt. Charles "Bo" Harrison was shot to death while on patrol near a nightclub. But turnaround efforts have only begun to gain traction in the past few years.

The community got a different kind of help Monday night, when Nelson was the headliner at a fundraiser at the Lake Jovita Golf and Country Club, which is a 20-minute drive from Lacoochee but a whole world away.

Dozens of Pasco's movers and shakers dined at the swank country club that features floor-to-ceiling windows and an impressive view of the nearby golf course. At the dinner, Nelson implored them to cut checks for a new community center at Lacoochee's Stanley Park.

The center would house the Boys & Girls Club and would roughly double the size of the current facility. It would allow the group to add 35 kids to the current enrollment of 70. It would add an indoor basketball court as well as space for aid agencies, job training and community meetings.

Officials with the Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative have raised $650,000 toward the center, which would cost $1.2 million to build. Besides money raised Monday, a federal grant could make up much of the difference.

"It's important we keep the spotlight on this area," Nelson said. "We've got a responsibility to our brothers and sisters."

Nelson said he is working on economic development ideas with officials at CSX, which owns a rail line that runs through Lacoochee. The line is expected to get an influx of traffic over the next few years as the Sunrail commuter rail project opens in Orlando. As those trains begin to carry passengers, freight traffic will be diverted to the company's other major line along the western side of the state.

Nelson called himself a "facilitator" to get federal help for the area, though he stressed that residents also have to get behind the effort with the help of businesses.

Back on the tour bus, the group saw that Lacoochee still needs a lot of help.

Riders saw some of the area's worst homes on Cox Road, including a beaten up mobile home, where a man sat in a lawn chair under an ailing porch.

"Some of these homes are quite liveable," Nelson said. "But you saw some that folks just shouldn't be living in."

Tour with Sen. Bill Nelson sees best and lingering worst of Lacoochee 08/23/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 23, 2011 8:24pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Carlton: A moment of sanity when citizens finally said no

    Courts

    If you were looking for some small sign of sanity in the world, here's one courtesy of the people of Tampa and Hillsborough County.

    The Confederate memorial statue outside the old Hillsborough courthouse is now boxed up in plywood to prevent vandalism. Private donors have ponied up money to have the statue relocated to a cemetery. [JIM DAMASKE  |  Times]
  2. Review: Jason Aldean fires up a country-dude party at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre

    Blogs

    Country music has a dude problem.

    I’m not talking about the proliferation of mindless bro country over the past half-decade, nor am I referring to the fact that most of Nashville’s best music these days comes not from said bros, from female singers and songwriters.

    Jason Aldean performed at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on Aug. 18, 2018.
  3. President Trump offers prayers for Kissimmee police

    Blogs

    President Donald Trump reacted to the police shooting in Kissimmee:

  4. Kissimmee police officer dies, one gravely wounded; Jacksonville officers shot

    News

    KISSIMMEE — A Kissimmee police officer died and a second was gravely wounded Friday night, police Chief Jeff O'Dell said.

    Two police officers have been shot and killed in Kissimmee, authorities say. The shooting happened in the area of Palmway and Cypress around 9:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017. Photo courtesy of WESH.com
  5. Longest home run at Trop and Erasmo Ramirez's pitching doom Rays (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Kevin Kiermaier returned. The problem was, so did Erasmo Ramirez.

    Seattle Mariners first baseman Yonder Alonso (10) scores on the double by Seattle Mariners designated hitter Nelson Cruz (23) in the first inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Friday, August 18, 2017.