TARPON SPRINGS — City leaders envision a proposed park along Live Oak Avenue as not just a recreation area for residents, but also as a new, appealing gateway feature for tourists arriving to visit the Sponge Docks and the historic downtown.
The park would straddle Live Oak Street where it meets Safford Avenue, on land already owned by the city.
"Something needs to be there to showcase Tarpon," City Manager Mark LeCouris said of the location. "What you are going to notice is that corner."
City commissioners got a look at the updated park proposal during their Aug. 2 meeting.
In a city where there is no public swimming pool, there was particular excitement about a plan to build a children's splash park in the northern portion of the park property. That area also would include water access to the Anclote River, a dog park, public bathrooms and parking.
The southern portion of the park would have benches and a community lawn for outside group activities. Adult fitness equipment would be set up near the Pinellas Trail, which winds behind the area.
Commissioners got their first look at the park plan in June, when they directed city staff to include more opportunities for public comment; to create more recreation opportunities for all age groups, including youths; to consider a boat ramp with fees; and to provide more detail about the operation and maintenance costs for the park.
Based on that meeting, staffers added the splash park and also designated a river access area. To get more community feedback, they displayed the conceptual plan at City Hall, the Tarpon Springs Library and the community center. The plan also was posted on the city's website.
If approved as planned, the project would cost $1.4 million. LeCouris recommended that the city spend $210,000 of that amount immediately to begin work on the southern portion of the park, where broken concrete and fill dirt have been dumped.
Commissioner Susan Slattery said the condition of the southern parcel is "atrocious" and that she wants to concentrate on improving it. Other commissioners agreed.
"We want that area to at least be aesthetically pleasing," Mayor David Archie said.
Some commissioners still aren't convinced that all of the elements staff has included in the plan are needed. "I'm still not sold on the outside workout equipment," Slattery said. Commissioner Chris Alahouzos wondered about that, too.
"As hot as it is outside, how did you select this element?" asked Alahouzos, who also wanted to know if staffers did a utilization study for the park's proposed elements. "I don't want to spend $1.5 million for it to be under-utilized."
Commissioners also received more details about the cost of developing the park. Most of the money, $895,000, will be Penny for Pinellas sales tax revenue. Another $400,000 will come from the city's Recreation Impact Fund. The city's Stormwater Fund will provide $70,000, and $50,000 will come from Tarpon's Tree Bank.
Public Services director Paul Smith estimated that operating costs for the splash park and fitness area would range from $6,000 to $10,000 annually.
While Commissioner Townsend Tarapani thought the project was moving in the right direction, and he liked the idea of having a splash park and fitness area, he thought those two elements might work better at other city parks.
Sue Thomas, president of the Tarpon Springs Chamber of Commerce, told commissioners the park would be a great way to attract families with children who may have little else to do. She also thinks it could lure users of the Pinellas Trail.
"The (Tarpon Springs) businesses are 120 percent behind it," Thomas said.
"I'm excited about the potential," Commissioner Jeff Larsen said.
Contact Demorris A. Lee at [email protected] and (727) 445-4174.