Progress is measured incrementally in Lacoochee, the poverty-plagued hamlet in northeast Pasco that's the focus of county and community redevelopment efforts. A simple, but significant sign of advancement just arrived with a flip of the switch.
By restoring lights to Stanley Park, the county signaled it would extend the same benefit to Lacoochee as it does to Land O'Lakes, Hudson and Holiday — the ability for youngsters and adults alike to play nighttime basketball. The lights went on recently three months after community activists asked commissioners to reinstall them. The county had removed the lights a decade earlier to stem vandalism.
Installing the poles and lights wasn't the problem, but covering the annual $4,200 electricity and maintenance costs caused the county to pause amid yet another tight budget. The commission correctly acquiesced after learning it already picked up the tab for lighted outdoor courts at the three recreation centers around the county. Failing to provide the same service to Lacoochee would have been unconscionable.
Giving kids an outlet for athletic activities while simultaneously curbing downtime and the accompanying potential for mischief are just one of the ongoing projects in Lacoochee. The commission also plans to spend close to $30,000 on fencing and dirt to turn additional land adjacent to Stanley Park into a football/soccer field.
Meanwhile, as Times staff writer Lee Logan reported, fundraising toward a $1 million community center and potential Boys & Girls Club headquarters is progressing with the aid of Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative; Habitat for Humanity has a trio of homes under construction nearby and the county will use part of a $1 million federal grand to help clean up underground fuel storage tanks at the former Cummer and Sons Cypress Co. sawmill site.
It is the initial work under a redevelopment plan that has long-term goals of better transit, pedestrian paths, improved code enforcement, work force training and crime prevention. The key, however, is luring an employment center to Lacoochee, an area of 1,700 residents where half the adults lack a high school education and where the median income is 55 percent lower than the countywide average. The focus is the sawmill site, which brought nearly four decades of prosperity before the mill closed in 1959. It remains an industrial site with highly desirable rail access.
Transforming Lacoochee from rut-filled dirt roads, aging utility infrastructure, shuttered buildings and housing in disrepair will not happen overnight. At Stanley Park, at least, the lights help illuminate the community spirit that is trying to make a difference.