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Date of Issue: February 23, 2006

County sacks Shack, new plan due

seafood shack pciture

There won't be boat ramps at the Seafood Shack in Cortez, though there may still be a maritime museum there. Meanwhile, there will still be the restaurant, which remains in full operation.

The Manatee County Commission, citing lack of funds and bowing to pressures from the north side of Cortez Road, voted unanimously last week not to buy the Cortez landmark for a maritime museum.

The proposal by the old village south of the road to put the Florida Gulf Coast Maritime Museum there fell victim to strong opposition to any boat-launching ramps on the site. The county early on added the ramp idea to the proposal for a museum.

Proposing the county's purchase to provide a home for the museum was the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage, which is developing the museum among other energetic undertakings.

Allen Garner, president of FISH, said after the county's rejection, "We're not giving up. We just have to find another way to finance a museum building, maybe another location, too. It's always been a goal of FISH to have the museum on the water, so we'll look for financing and keep an eye out for other shore property."

Ham Jones, creator and operator of the Shack, said he was sorry the county didn't buy, it is an ideal place for the museum, but "it wasn't any great surprise. The $9.7 million (county's appraisal) was a lowball appraisal that I just maybe could live with, but the commissioners said the county didn't have the money."

"The county had hoped to lessen the expense through grants," said Commissioner Jane von Hahmann, who lives in Cortez. "But Florida Community Trust's rejection was the final blow."

"There are some other avenues we'll go into now," said "Chips" Shore, Manatee County Clerk of the Circuit Court, whose department is responsible for matters historic in the county; Cortez is designated a historic village.

"We'll work with people in the Florida Legislature who want to make sure that saltwater accesses remain open to the public. With such financial support, the county could likely see its way clear to help, much as it did with the school." The state and county together bought the 1912-build school building in Cortez for community use.

"There's no longer any intention for boat ramps," Shore noted. "The ramps were the wrong direction to take. It will be the museum only, and keep the docks open." The Shack has a 68-slip marina on its property.

"I told Ham we don't expect him to hold it for us any more, to sell it if he decides to put it on the market. He's been very patient."