MADEIRA BEACH — A special park dedicated to children who have died is about to be built in this beach community, thanks to more than a half-million dollars in donations from grieving families and community supporters.
The waterfront ROC (Remember Our Children) Park is expected to officially open in January when construction of a City Hall, fire station and recreational complex is set to be completed.
"The park is intended to serve as a positive and happy reminder of all those we have lost who have touched our lives," City Manager Shane Crawford said. "It will be a celebration of life and a beautiful, serene place to reflect on all of our loved ones who are no longer physically with us, but still very much alive in our hearts."
The memorial park, unanimously approved by the City Commission last month, will be an integral part of the city's recreational complex and is the brainchild of local contractor Bill Karns, who lost his son, William F. Karns III, 26, last year.
Originally, the city had budgeted about $200,000 for the landscaping at its new park, but Karns' firm, William Karns Enterprises Inc., is charging the city $50,000 less to install all the landscaping and amenities surrounding the city's new recreational complex.
In addition, Karns, his wife, Diane, and two daughters, Paige and Nikki, created a nonprofit foundation, ROC Park Inc., which has already raised more than $500,000 to help pay for additional features and amenities well beyond those originally planned by Madeira Beach.
"This will be a hub of activity for Madeira Beach and for people from all communities. We are very, very excited about it," Karns said.
Brick paver walkways will replace shell paths surrounding the park, located on the Intracoastal Waterway just east of the City Hall complex.
Along the walkway, visitors can enjoy fountains, a butterfly garden, a splash pad and playground for children, or sit on benches overlooking Boca Ciega Bay.
People can bring their pets to a fenced dog park. Ball fields already are attracting competing teams and tournaments.
"The liveliness of the recreation center and patrons enjoying the grounds will create a happy and positive atmosphere for all who visit," Crawford said.
So far, more than 100 people, businesses and organizations have donated money or materials to the park foundation.
The largest contributor to date is Home Depot, which is providing landscaping and materials for the project.
Home Depot has yet to confirm the value of that contribution, but Karns said it could well be $200,000.
"Since out first store opened, Home Depot has been dedicated to giving back to community," Largo Home Depot store manager John Matz said.
Karns said three large sun shades within the park are being donated by Andy and Vicki Hano, who lost their son Michael in a car accident; former Buc Mike Alstott; and Dignity Memorial, one of the country's largest provider of funeral, cremation and cemetery services.
"I hope the park will become a place for families to come to remember their children in the midst of a recreational park being enjoyed by children of all ages," Karns said. "The park will be there for many, many years and enjoyed by thousands of people."
He got the idea for the park after his family visited MOMS (Memories of Missing Smiles) park in Ocala.
"That beautiful park inspired us to do this. We did not want anything morbid or cemeterylike," Karns said. "My son loved kids and would be thrilled to see kids playing on a splash pad."
He also plans a metal artwork palm tree where people can hang "locks of love" dedicated to passed loved ones.
"It will be a spectacular piece of artwork," Karns said.
Karns said his foundation will sponsor fundraising activities to continue to raise money to support the park.
Two ideas are a "Rock for ROC Park concert and a 5K "Run for ROC Park" event. Both would be held at the park.
The city is accepting donations to Karn's foundation, Crawford said. Donations should be made to ROC Inc. and mailed to the attention of the City Clerk at the city of Madeira Beach, 300 Municipal Drive, Madeira Beach, FL 33708.
Karns said people also can purchase brick pavers or memorial plaques that will be placed on benches.
Additional information and updates about the park will be available at rocpark.com.