SUN PHOTO/CINDY LANE
Harry Howey and his daughter, Kathie Harris,
celebrate with Cortez Trailer Park residents on Saturday after Butch Howey,
Harry’s son, agreed to sell the park to the residents.
CORTEZ – "Hello, it’s happy Harry!"
That’s how Harry Howey answered the phone an hour after the news that a deal had been struck between his son, Butch Howey, owner of the Cortez Trailer Park, and the homeowner’s association to sell the park to the residents.
Residents plan to form a co-op, which would allow them to buy shares in the five-acre park at the eastern end of the Cortez bridge, which includes a marina and restaurant, said Donna Stoutin, President of Cortez Park Homeowners Inc.
"We are excited," she said, adding that board members and the seller plan to meet with an attorney this week to discuss the details.
"No one else can buy it out from under us and decide to do something different," she said. "A lot of people are going to stay because of this." Neighbors in the close-knit, 79-lot park have been living in fear of losing their homes since 2005, when the owner put the park on the market for $14.75 million. He gave the association the first option to buy it, but their counteroffer was not accepted.
Last year, worries increased when the owner received an offer from developer Carlos Beruff to buy the park for $10.8 million. Since residents own their trailers but not the land, they would have been forced to leave their homes.
A majority of the homeowner’s association voted to offer the owner the same amount of money that the developer did, but to their surprise, the owner refused. Neighbors, some who have lived in the park for 50 years, protested along Cortez Road for several weeks with friends from the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage (FISH) and the Cortez Village Historical Society.
The deal with the developer was scrapped and the owner agreed to sell to the residents if they could raise the purchase price.
Since then, residents have been working to come up with the money and form a co-op, and the owner agreed on Saturday to an undisclosed down payment, according to Doug Morgan, co-chairman of the purchase committee for the homeowner’s association.
"Half of us are crying from happiness the other half are smiling," Harry Howey said shortly after hearing the news. "A lot of us didn’t get to sleep last night."
Harry Howey pulled into the park in a 1955 Chevy in August, 1959 with his wife, Dottie, their three kids, a dog and a U-Haul trailer. The couple ran the park for the next 30 years and still live there.
The park is one of oldest in Manatee County and perhaps the state of Florida, he said, dating back to 1935. The park’s community center is more than 100 years old, and was once the detached kitchen of the Fulford Hotel in the 1880s, he added.
"I fought to stay here. I live on the waterfront with a million dollar view of God’s creation right here," said Howey, 86. "We’re preserving a way of life."