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Pioneer Park in downtown St. Pete getting $100K facelift

Larry Pedota, with MLI Morelli Landscaping, digs a hole for a palm at Pioneer Park, whose obelisk holds 600 pioneer names. The facelift is expected to cost $100,000. 

DIRK SHADD | Times

Larry Pedota, with MLI Morelli Landscaping, digs a hole for a palm at Pioneer Park, whose obelisk holds 600 pioneer names. The facelift is expected to cost $100,000. 

ST. PETERSBURG — Etched in the obelisk rising amid tall oaks, crape myrtles and sabal palms are names of men and women honored as the city's pioneers.

Among them are Silas Dent, H.A. Farmer, Dr. R.H. Knowlton and Al Lang. There's Peter A. Demens, Paul Poynter, Sarah M. Straub, W.L. Straub and dozens of others.

Aptly, the list of St. Petersburg notables is displayed in Pioneer Park — a 1.8-acre waterfront spot at Central Avenue and Beach Drive overlooked by Bayfront Tower.

The park's glory has faded a bit in recent years, with overgrown trees and shrubs prompting concerns about safety.

Last week, work began to restore Pioneer Park. The facelift, a collaboration between the city and descendants of some of the same men and women whose names appear on the monument, is expected to cost $100,000. Penny for Pinellas money is paying for much of the project.

The Pioneer Park Foundation, made up of descendants of St. Petersburg's earliest settlers, is contributing $16,000 to the project from its trust fund. The conceptual design, an unapologetic nod to nostalgia, has been donated by Dalí Museum landscape architect and pioneer descendant Phil Graham of Graham-Booth Landscape Architecture.

"We all felt on the foundation board that the park was tired and it needed updating,'' said Graham, whose great-grandfather, C.W. Graham, was a young, retired businessman when he moved from the Chicago area to St. Petersburg.

Last week, work began behind construction fences. Overgrown trees and shrubs were trimmed, and workers toiled to relocate sabal palms that had been overshadowed by a canopy of oaks. New shrubbery will be more sustainable and Florida friendly, Graham said.

"The idea is to keep a clear view from the park into the street while keeping it very attractive,'' he said.

In coming weeks, new period lighting, similar to that seen in other parts of downtown, will be installed. New paths will also be built, Graham said. The old ones did not conform to the Americans With Disabilities Act.

"We're going to be adding more benches. We're going to put in the standard city bench, a wood bench that does give it the character of olden days," he said.

A highlight of the makeover will be a widened plaza around the obelisk. The area will be paved with old Augusta blocks, red bricks from the Georgia Engineering Co. of Augusta that date back to the early 1900s and once used to surface miles of St. Petersburg streets. Granite curbs from the era also will be used.

Steve Ochsner, capital projects coordinator for the city, said the bricks and granite curbs are being reclaimed from the city's stockpile. They remained after many of the old brick streets were dug up and rebuilt with modern material.

Much of the work at Pioneer Park is being done by the city, Ochsner said. The Parks Department is doing the landscape tear-out, irrigation and bench replacement, he said. The engineering department's stormwater operations will do the concrete tear-out.

The landscaping and some of the concrete work were sent out to bid. Graham-Booth has been hired to do the construction drawings.

The goal is to complete the improvements to Pioneer Park — which has its own Facebook page — by early to mid December, Ochsner said.

"We wanted to eliminate some security issues and improve the lighting and make it more friendly and highlight the monument,'' he said.

"I think most people walking past the park did not know that it is there."

Graham may have found a way to take care of that. His new design calls for accent lighting from surrounding trees to shine on the textured concrete obelisk with its bronze plaques and 600 pioneer names.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2283.

Pioneer Park in downtown St. Pete getting $100K facelift 09/20/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 20, 2011 4:21pm]
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