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Grant would spruce up Sims Park

As part of a $1.8-million proposal to revamp Sims Park, city officials are considering building a new amphitheater and sprucing up nearby Orange Lake with new sidewalks and turf.

Those first improvements would cost an estimated $200,000 and could begin as soon as next year.

But there's a catch: The city plans to pay for only about half of the cost of the work and probably would agree to do that only if the state picks up the rest of the bill.

Tuesday night, City Council members agreed to pursue a $100,000 state Department of Natural Resources grant that would finance half of the cost of the improvements.

"This does not mean we're going ahead with anything," council member Bill Phillips assured the 45 or so residents who attended Tuesday's public hearing. "We're just trying to get the money to offset our costs in the future."

The city has until Oct. 30 to submit an application for a grant under DNR's land and water conservation funding program, according to City Manager Gerald Seeber. The city can apply for up to $100,000 in funding, if it matches the amount of any grant with its own money.

DNR probably will make a final decision on the grant request in April. If the city gets the grant, it will have up to two years to use the money.

Specifically, council members want to use part of the money to demolish the park's existing amphitheater, which is more than 15 years old, and replace it with a new one. The new amphitheater would be built opposite the park's existing one to help resolve frequent complaints about noise from groups using the amphitheater and to improve stage lighting.

The rest of the money would be used for improvements around Orange Lake. There, the city is considering installing sidewalks and an irrigation system and reinforcing the turf around the lake with a synthetic product known as Geo-Web. The reinforcement would allow cars to be parked along the lakefront without damaging it and also would help keep the grass from being damaged when the city holds events like art shows at the lake.

The decision to pursue the state grant came after a two-hour public hearing that ended up being a review of a city consultant's $1.8-million proposal to revamp Sims Park.

The proposal by consultant Dames & Moore calls for a new walkway to be built along the park's border with the Pithlachascotee River and for more picnic tables, grills, lights and parking space to be built in and around the park, among other things.

The proposal was completed earlier this year and was first presented to the council and the public in July.

Most of the dozen or so New Port Richey residents who spoke about the plan at Tuesday's public hearing said they were in favor of it, but were against its high price tag and the traffic problems it would create.

Fred Marchman, who said he has lived in the city since 1934, was one of them.

"In the summer of 1940, I courted my wife in Sims Park and slapped mosquitoes in between hugs," Marchman said. "I have a lot of nostalgic feelings for Sims Park.

"However, I feel it is a grave mistake to put this kind of money into this small a piece of ground."