LAND O'LAKES — A long-awaited project fueled by a collective desire to showcase the arts and family-friendly events has come to fruition, raising the curtain on a variety of cultural offerings expected to come to the new Heritage Stage at the Land O'Lakes Community Center.
On Aug. 17, those who helped make it happen, as well as local dignitaries, school officials and community members, gathered on the grassy lawn surrounding the stage for a grand opening ceremony hosted by the Pasco County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department.
"I'm so excited. This is what our community needs," said Land O'Lakes honorary mayor and Lutz-Land O'Lakes Woman's Club member Rosie Heim as the Sunlake High School Seahawks Band performed Louie Louie on stage.
School concerts, theatrical performances, pageants, cook-offs and a December pops concert featuring members of the Florida Orchestra are among the events people can now look forward to, thanks to the combined effort of the Heritage Park Foundation, Pasco County, the Pasco County schools, the state of Florida, local businesses and community volunteers.
Construction of the stage began in September 2016, part of a $2.3 million project to expand community center amenities, including new parking lots and athletic fields.
The cost of the stage was $250,000 and was made possible through the fundraising efforts of the Heritage Park Foundation and donations from architects and contractors, as well as a grant from the Florida Department of State's Division of Cultural Affairs that was secured by Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes.
A metal roof spans the 1,000-square-foot stage, which includes a green room and a storage room. A walkway equipped with 15 power pedestals to accommodate vendors borders the grassy lawn.
Park amenities are shared by nearby Sanders Memorial Elementary School and Pasco County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources.
Some events that already are held at the park include a winter holiday event called Traditions on the Green, an autumn scarecrow festival and a Jelly Bean Jamboree held before the Easter holiday in the spring.
"I look forward to having our schools use this facility," Pasco superintendent of schools Kurt Browning said, giving a nod to the efforts of deputy superintendent Ray Gadd in "recruiting skilled contractors and suppliers to offer services for free or on the cheap."
The effort to bring a community stage to Land O'Lakes and revamp the park goes back a ways — 20 years, according to Sandy Graves, who as president of the Heritage Park Foundation has long been at the forefront.
"We did all kinds of fundraisers. We sold a lot of turkey legs," Graves said, alluding to the foundation's early tradition of selling turkey legs at the annual Flapjack Festival.
Graves, who was inspired by her father's love of Broadway musicals, was one of a handful of speakers at the grand opening, and the lone one to sing, weaving a capella snippets of Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'; Climb Ev'ry Mountain, and I Could Have Danced All Night.
"I believe that if you can get people to sing and dance, you can accomplish anything," she said before the unveiling of two large plaques honoring those who pitched in.
Contact Michele Miller at [email protected] Follow at MicheleMiller52.