CLEARWATER — This city that has been dismantling playgrounds in neighborhood parks will soon install a nearly $440,000 new playground at Pier 60 Park in the heart of the Clearwater Beach tourist district.
The City Council is set to approve the project at its meeting Thursday night.
Council members also will likely vote to install a $100,000 flag plaza between Pier 60 and the Clearwater Beach Roundabout, displaying the flags of branches of the U.S. military.
A plan for the new Pier 60 playground shows it will feature an elaborate, one-of-a-kind play structure that resembles a sand castle, which the city will purchase from a Minnesota company.
The beachside park will also get a new "Welcome to Clearwater Beach" sign.
The goal is for the sand castle playground and the sign to become a focal point on the beach and a photo opportunity for beach visitors, Parks and Recreation director Kevin Dunbar told the City Council at a work session Monday.
The main play structures will be constructed from concrete and are designed to withstand the harsh beach weather with little to no maintenance, Dunbar said.
If approved Thursday night, the new playground should be installed by September, before the beach district's busy season starts up.
Council members expressed support for the idea.
"I was out there the other day ... It was about 8:30 in the morning, and there were kids using the playground equipment that is currently there," Mayor George Cretekos said. "I think this is a good step for us."
Meanwhile, Clearwater continues to eliminate older playgrounds in the city's neighborhood parks due to budget constraints.
Nine of the city's 34 playgrounds were torn down within the past six years, city records show, with several more scheduled for demolition by 2019.
The city says this is a safety measure, as it can no longer afford to replace play structures that have reached the end of their life-span. Demolishing the play structures once they're 12 to 15 years old is intended to protect children from injury and the city from liability.
"If a playground outlives its current life-span, it's not being replaced if there's another playground close by," said Clearwater spokeswoman Joelle Castelli.
As for the Pier 60 playground, she said: "That is a tourist destination. This will be a signature playground that will welcome visitors to the most touristy part of our town."
The flag plaza to be constructed near Pier 60 was the mayor's idea, although Cretekos originally envisioned it in the middle of the roundabout. Other council members preferred a location on the western side of the roundabout.
The plaza, which has yet to be designed, will feature the flags of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.