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Date of Issue: December 02, 2009

FISH purchases, preserves more village property

The Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of Cortez and its integrity as a maritime community, Nov. 20 purchased the Church of God property in the heart of the Cortez fishing village.

The front entrance of the Church of God is nondescript, with no indication it was a house of worship.
Islander Photos: Bonner Joy.

From behind, the property is conveniently close to the community center. The classrooms and parking lot will be beneficial to the future of FISH.

The property includes a classroom building, parsonage and vacant lot used for parking.

To purchase the property, FISH made a down payment of $50,000 and received a loan of $245,000 from First America Bank in Palmetto — $50,000 of which will be used to renovate the classroom building.

“It’s interesting because at that price, it’s the same price as it was for the whole 95-acre tract of land out there,” said Karen Bell, a FISH member, office manager of A.P. Bell Fish Co. and owner of Star Fish Seafood Market and Restaurant. “I supported the move because I don’t want anyone tearing the church down. We can still make the parsonage available for weddings or just for whoever needs to use a church.”

The list of FISH accomplishments is long, but one of the first achievements was to secure about 95 acres of scrub and mangroves east of the village as a preserve. The FISH Preserve serves to maintain marine life in Sarasota Bay that provided for the village inhabitants for more than 100 years and buffers the village from encroaching development.

The negotiation process on the newly acquired property between 119th Court West and 120th Street West, across from the former volunteer fire hall, now the Cortez Community Center and the center of boat building activities, took six weeks.

Allen Langford, president of First America Bank, said he and Dan Hager, the bank’s chairman of the board, were born and raised in Manatee County, and their roots were part of the reason they approved the loan.

“They’re really getting the community on board, and they’re trying to keep the historical aspect of Manatee County,” Langford said. “They’ve done a very good job. They’re really growing the organization and they totally qualified for the loan.”

Roger Allen, historical sites manager at the Florida Maritime Museum, said FISH will be able to pay off the loan in a variety of ways. It can rent the fire house, rent the parsonage, and use money raised from the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival.

The next festival is Feb. 20-21.

“That’s where a lot of the payments will come from” for the property loan, Allen said.

Allen said the roughly 10 spaces for vehicles in the empty, grassy lot will be used for the festival.

“The kids’ rides will be right in the lot as well,” Allen said.

The church, he said, will be used for community meetings, exhibits and a classroom.

The classroom building needs a roof. Allen said the building could also become storage, or possibly an office rental, if zoning allows.