The U.S. Bureau of Amusements and Entertainment will inspect Manatee Public Beach April 1 to determine whether a $22 million grant might be available to build a carnivalesque boardwalk and long pier at the site.
Federal officials recently announced that millions of dollars remain from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act due to substantial savings in initial projects.
A hail-Mary petition from a snowbird seeking a new pier to replace a structure demolished in late 2010 led to the federal review. In late 2010, Manatee County contracted for the demolition of a pier deemed structurally unsound. The top of the pier was taken down last year, and this spring removal of the foundation has taken place.
County officials, when the old pier was taken down, had focused on what type of pier — long or short — might be built in its place.
However, with local officials dealing with major budget cuts and the state dealing with budget shortfalls, finding money for a replacement pier seemed increasingly unlikely.
But in February, attorney John Da Bears, a snowbird from Chicago, read about the leftover stimulus funds and decided to lobby for a new pier similar to Navy Pier in the Windy City.
Navy Pier, which stretches into Lake Michigan, contains a 50-acre playground and features a 15-story Ferris wheel, retail shops, restaurants, an Imax theater and a ballroom. The attraction draws about 8.6 million visitors a year.
“I don’t think Holmes Beach could handle anything that big,” Da Bears said. “So I proposed a long fishing pier, with a couple of retail kiosks, a restaurant, a puppet theater and a merry-go-round. That makes more sense than a Ferris wheel.”
Da Bears wrote letters to congressional representatives, as well as various agency heads. A grant-handler at the Bureau of Amusements and Entertainment took notice.
Federal officials planned to visit the site early April 1.
“We want to be out there for breakfast,” said a spokesman for the bureau. “We heard the cafe has all-you-can-eat pancakes.”
Editor’s note: Happy April Fool’s Day — a bit early.