CLEARWATER — Before he left office due to term limits last year, former Mayor George Cretekos tried to reason with naysayers who pushed back on the city’s efforts to renovate Crest Lake Park.
There was outcry over the 150 trees being removed, even though workers would plant 285 new ones in their place. There were complaints about the millions being spent and about the year-long closure required to make the improvements.
On Monday, Cretekos joined his successor, Mayor Frank Hibbard, along with past and present city council members to unveil what he and his colleagues hoped to deliver from the outset — a $5.7 million renovation of Crest Lake Park they celebrated as a legacy project for generations to come.
“There were a lot of critics out here saying y’all are making a mistake in doing this, and we said ‘be patient with us, this project is going to make you proud,’” Cretekos said to Monday’s crowd of nearly 100 who joined the ribbon cutting.
With widened sidewalks, new lighting, four new play areas, volleyball courts, improved landscaping and its renovated dog park, Parks and Recreation Director Jim Halios called the 38.5 acre Crest Lake Park “the crown jewel in our park system.”
The $5.7 million in renovations was paid for using the settlement the city received from the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Located at Gulf to Bay Boulevard and S Glenwood Avenue, thousands of vacationers pass Crest Lake on their way to Clearwater Beach. And near the gateway to downtown, Crest Lake now serves as a precursor for the $64 million renovation planned for the downtown waterfront.
“It’s even beyond my wildest expectations,” said JoAnna Siskin, president of Skycrest Neighborhood Association, which had members work with the city on the design.
The renovation also serves to show how far the park has come from years ago, when city officials began talking in earnest about the need for improvements.
In 2013, a few days after a 22-year-old man was stabbed to death near the park, one resident wrote a letter to the Tampa Bay Times calling Crest Lake a “refuge for the homeless and a hunting ground for the violent.”
In more recent years, even with a need for upgrades, it has become a favorite for dog walkers and residents craving some green space.
Former council member Bill Jonson, who was in office when the city dedicated the BP funds to the Crest Lake project, remembered coming down to the park at night to respond to complaints.
As he helped cut the ribbon on the finished project, Monday, it was the future he was thinking about.
“This could be a model for other projects in the city,” Jonson said.