The entrance to Freedom Plaza is flanked by two large walls identifying the property as a Brookdale Senior Living Community, sponsored by the Retired Officers Corporation.
“And what,” one may ask, “do military officers have to do with a community open to all seniors, military-connected or not?”
The answer to that question is complex – so much so that it will require two Freedom Focus columns to give it adequate coverage. This will be the first.
It all began in April 1986 in a Tampa restaurant where a group of retired military officers chatted about how nice it would be to have a retirement community nearby built especially for their fellow retirees. In that group was Ret. Army Lt. Col. Joseph Grezaffi, now deceased, who was at the time president of West Central Area of Florida Retired Officers Association.
The “light bulb” flashed for Grezaffi and several others and by the end of April a query to determine interest in such a project had gone out to 2,500 retired officers living in Central Florida. The response was positive.
By July a development committee had begun functioning as the Retired Officers Village of West Central Florida, which later became the Retired Officers Village. Grezaffi headed that group and went on to become a “mover and shaker” in getting the building project completed. He enjoyed several years here as a resident. A bronze statuette honoring him graces the flower garden at the front portico of Freedom Plaza.
The first step toward establishing a military retirement community was to select a company to develop, build, and then manage it. Freedom Group Inc., headquartered in Bradenton, was chosen.
Next came devising a means for financing the project. Freedom Group CEO Bob Roskamp initiated a master trust plan that enabled development to move forward virtually debt free. Plans began to take form.
As originally conceived, this would be a retirement community containing two separate resident buildings – one for military retirees (Retired Officers Village), the other for civilian retirees (Freedom Plaza). Advertising was begun, a marketing center built and the dream was being realized … but dreams do, sometimes, take a divergent path. That path will be explored in the next week’s column.
Peggy Burgess is a resident activities associate of Freedom Plaza and columnist for The Sun.