Community park in Manatee County to be named after Gov. Ron DeSantis

·5 min read

Manatee County intends to name its new $3 million park north of Kinnan Elementary School after Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Intentions to name the park after DeSantis have soured the news for some local residents who are otherwise excited about the investment. County commissioners will vote on a resolution to officially name the park after the governor at a future meeting.

"That whole area has been marginalized for 20 years," said resident Glenn Gibelina, who lives less than a mile from the property. "No streetlights, no sidewalks, no sewer, and now we're getting a park ... I'm glad it's moving forward, that whole area has been marginalized for way too long. Disappointed with the name."

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Politics highjacked naming process

Manatee County conducted an online survey soliciting suggestions from local residents to name the new park, which has no formal name although the community often refers to the property as Kinnan Park.

Residents suggested Snooty Park, South Park of Manatee, Joan of Park, and a mix of other serious and joke names.

The most popular name during the first five weeks of the survey was Prospect Park, which received 27 suggestions. DeSantis' name had only been mentioned six times in that timeframe.

Nonetheless, Manatee County intends to name the park after Florida's governor because of a late push to rally residents behind the name before the survey closed on March 31.

The first person to mention the name Gov. Ron DeSantis Park as an option was Manatee County Republican Party Treasurer Bruce Stamm, who on Feb. 27 also suggested President Donald J. Trump Park and President Ronald Reagan Park.

Don Baugh, the husband of Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, echoed the suggestion on March 3, followed by District 4 candidate Mike Rahn on March 23.

Then on March 24, suggestions for various versions of Gov. Ron DeSantis Park exploded, with 91 out of the next 128 suggestions over the next week naming DeSantis in some form.

Commissioners voted 6 to 1 on May 24 to direct the county attorney to prepare a resolution to officially name the new park after DeSantis. Democrat commissioner Reggie Bellamy was the lone nay vote.

The resolution must be brought back to the board for final approval at a future meeting to finalize the process, but on Tuesday, commissioners indicated they have the votes to make it official.

During the March 24 meeting, Commissioner Misty Servia accused Vanessa Baugh of hijacking the process to gain favor with the governor in an effort to make up for the vaccine scandal that embroiled his name in controversy over a pop-up vaccine clinic that served only residents of Lakewood Ranch.

She also accused Mike Rahn of manipulating the survey to score political points in the upcoming primary election with far-right voters and presented the board with three emails sent by his campaign to registered Republicans as evidence.

"You can see there was clear manipulation," Servia said. "That's the problem that I have. I don't like that a local neighborhood park has been hijacked and manipulated for political reasons."

At the meeting, Baugh denied the claims and said the survey represented the will of local residents.

"It wasn't even close," Baugh said. "Bottom line is, the people have spoken."

Kinnan Park's namesake family

The new park will be located on Tellevast Road, on the west side of Prospect Road, just north of Kinnan Elementary School — where almost 60% of students are of minority decent, primarily Hispanic.

The park will include the first official dog park in Manatee County's District 4, two pickleball courts, a half-mile fitness trail, an open lawn area, natural wetlands, and public restrooms.

The Kinnan family has lived in Manatee county since the 1950s and is well known in the community. The park was never properly named and was only known as Kinnan Park because of its proximity to the school.

The late Marjorie Kinnan served for 16 years on the Manatee County School Board and is the namesake of the elementary school.

Joe Kinnan is a longtime Manatee High School Hall of Fame football coach, who led his team to five state titles and 290 career wins. He even rode into a Manatee State Champions Football banquet on an elephant once.

Harry Kinnan, who is known for eight decades as a School Board member, professor, and head basketball coach at the Manatee Community College, which is now the State College of Florida. He is in the Florida Community College Basketball Hall of Fame.

"The Kinnan's are not by any means forgotten in this town," Manatee County Chair Kevin Van Ostenbridge said. "Obviously, there is Joe Kinnan Field at Hawkins Stadium, I believe the basketball court at MCC is named after Harry Kinnan, and then there's an elementary school named Marjorie Kinnan, so by no means are the Kinnan's forgotten."

But instead of naming the park after the Kinnans, or any of the other names suggested by the community, commissioners are citing the results from the county's survey as the reason for naming the park after DeSantis.

Manatee County Resident Betty Rhodes, a Black woman who also often attends local public meetings, spoke against using the governor's name during Tuesday's meeting.

"That's like a slap in the face because you are going to remove Kinnan off and put the governor of Florida," Rhodes said. "If you think about it, I hate to say this, he's not doing anything for me. He may be doing something for you all, but not for me."

Like on May 24, Bellamy was the lone nay vote on Tuesday. He said he voted as such in protest of the name even though he supports the $3 million investment.

"I don't have anything against the project itself, but how things were done were very unfortunate," Bellamy said. "I'm not sure if some of you all are aware of the roots of the Kinnan family here in Manatee County."

"The reality of it is the naming of the park was kind of steamrolled," he said.

This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: New park in Manatee County named after DeSantis