Land O’ Lakes’ Heritage Stage makes its debut

It was an occasion to mark the completion of Heritage Stage in Land O’ Lakes, and it had all of the trappings of a traditional small-town celebration.

The American Legion Post 79 presented the colors.

Sanders Elementary students led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.

The Sunlake High School Seahawks band played a few numbers.

Elected officials, business owners and volunteers stepped up to cut the ribbon at Heritage Stage in Land O’ Lakes. (B.C. Manion)

And, public officials and staff members were there from Pasco County, Pasco County Schools, the Clerk and Comptroller’s Office, and the San Antonio City Council.

Others attending the Aug. 17 event included members of The Heritage Park Foundation, the Central Pasco Chamber of Commerce, the GFWC Lutz-Land O’ Lakes Woman’s Club, the Land O’ Lakes AARP and other organizations.

The ceremony, held at the park at 5401 Land O’ Lakes Blvd., honored efforts that began more than two decades ago by the Heritage Park Foundation, seeking to create a community gathering space in Land O’ Lakes.

The outdoor stage project finally reached fruition through an agreement between Pasco County and Pasco County Schools, funding from the Florida Legislature, and contributions from local contractors, local businesses, various organizations and other community partners.

As Pasco County Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning put it: “This band shell is certainly the result of a community coming together.

“This theater is a place for families, the community to come together,” he said.

From left, Pasco County School Board Chairman Allen Altman, School Board Vice Chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong, Pasco County Commission Chairman Mike Moore, Pasco County Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning, Assistant County Administrator Cathy Pearson, Pasco County Commissioner Ron Oakley, Pasco Schools Deputy Superintendent Ray Gadd and Pasco County School Board member Colleen Beaudoin stand near the plaque that names public officials holding office at the time of the Heritage Stage dedication. (B.C. Manion)

“We look forward to having our schools, and the community, use this facility to highlight the great talents of the kids, the families, the community members,” Browning said.

Pasco County Commission Chairman Mike Moore, who served as master of ceremonies at the celebration, described the stage’s physical attributes.

It measures slightly more than 1,000 square feet and spans 31-by-31 feet. It also has a green room, extra storage, power and lights, he said.

There’s also a sidewalk and power outlets, “so, as events happen here, there will be an opportunity for vendors to line up around here and gather around the stage area,” Moore added.

He foresees it being a busy place.

“It’s going to host cultural events, events such as school band assemblies, concerts, plays, cookouts, pageants and various other presentations throughout the years,” Moore said.

“This is a special day,” Moore said. “As a county, we’re proud of this. I know that people from the Heritage Park Foundation are proud of what we’re seeing here today,” Moore said.

Browning credited Ray Gadd, deputy superintendent of schools, for guiding the project to completion.

“Ray has the uncanny ability of contacting contractors, skilled tradesmen, different individuals and getting them to do a lot of things, if not for free, on the cheap.

Several members of the GFWC Lutz-Land O’ Lakes Woman’s Club were at the Aug. 17 ceremony to celebrate the completion of Heritage Stage. The club has donated three benches, which will be placed in the area that’s near the stage. (Diane Kortus)

“Ray was able to leverage the dollars that we were able to get for this project and really make it work,” Browning said, noting that many contractors donated their labor.

Gadd credited Humberto Gonzalez, senior project manager, and John Petrashek, director of construction services, for playing pivotal roles.

“They are really the guys that need credit for helping this project come to fruition, and we owe them a debt of gratitude for this building here today,” Gadd said.

Gadd also noted: “We actually put out a bid on the street, and we said we need somebody to manage this project, and we need them to do it for free.”

Walbridge stepped up.

“When we started this project, the estimate was it would cost us $485,000, and we brought this project in for $250,000,” Gadd said.

Local contractors and friends of the community made that happen, Gadd said.

The final speaker at the celebration was Sandy Graves, of the Heritage Park Foundation. She’s been pushing for the stage — to anyone who would listen — for years.

“Heritage Park began almost 20 years ago with a mission to revive this park and make it truly a community center,” Graves said, noting the community created the original community center in 1962.

“I grew up with a father who loved this community. He also loved musicals. He had all of the musical albums,” said Graves, a Land O’ Lakes native.

She then injected a note of joy to the occasion, singing excerpts from “Oklahoma,” (‘Oh, what a beautiful morning, Oh, what a beautiful day, I’ve got a beautiful feeling, everything’s coming my way.’).

And, “The Sound of Music,” (‘Climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow til you find your dream).

And finally, “My Fair Lady.” (I could have danced all night, I could have danced all night and still have begged for more. I could have spread my wings and done a thousand things I’ve never done before …)

Like the other speakers, Graves expressed gratitude to a lengthy list of people for helping to make the dream of a community stage come true.

She added: “We have a few finishing touches, such as historical markers that Dr. Susan MacManus is helping us with that tell our community story, and three benches that will be placed that were donated by the (GFWC) Lutz-Land O’ Lakes Woman’s Club.”

But, she said, the stage is ready for action, and an act has been booked for December.

The Florida Orchestra will be bringing its brass section for a Pops in the Park holiday performance in December.

Published August 23, 2017

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