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Park envisioned as city entrance

When people come into Inverness from the east on State Road 44 or from the south on U.S. 41, city officials want them to see something that will make a statement: Cooter Pond.

"That's the first thing that catches your eye," Parks and Recreation Department director Pati Smith said. "Cooter Pond is the gateway of Inverness."

After a presentation by Smith and City Manager Frank DiGiovanni on Tuesday night, the City Council unanimously approved plans for creating a park at the pond.

The plans, which Smith said have been in the works for the past six or seven years, include a wooden boardwalk leading to a lookout pavilion on the water, a fountain in the center of the pond, picnic tables, pathways and landscaping.

City officials later plan to connect the park to the city's other parks, the Withlacoochee State Trail and the downtown business district.

City officials said the first phase of the construction of Cooter Pond Park _ which includes the boardwalk and pavilion, picnic tables, pathways and landscaping _ will cost about $200,000, money already acquired through a state grant and matching local funds.

The city has another $200,000 of state and local funds for the second phase, which will include a connection to the trail, possibly another lookout, and the fountain.

City officials still need to obtain grants for the third and final phase of the project, a connection for pedestrians from Cooter Pond to Mill Avenue and Dampier Street and other city lakefront parks. With the council's endorsement Tuesday, city officials will move forward with the project's first phase. An Orlando engineering company will make final designs for the park, Smith said.

Afterward, the designs will be reviewed by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, known as Swiftmud, which would give the city the necessary permits.

While there is no scheduled start date, Smith said she hopes to see the first phase completed by August .

DiGiovanni said Tuesday night that the park is a good investment for the city. "This is going to be absolutely gorgeous and well-received," he said. ". . . This really is one hellacious welcome sign. This is really going to make a statement."

_ Suzannah Gonzales can be reached at sgonzalessptimes.com or 860-7300.

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