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New Tampa continues plans for sensory-friendly park

People gathered June 13 to learn more about a sensory park being constructed in New Tampa. JENNIFER LIMA | Special to the Times
People gathered June 13 to learn more about a sensory park being constructed in New Tampa. JENNIFER LIMA | Special to the Times
Published Jun. 22, 2018

NEW TAMPA — The City of Tampa continues to gather citizen input on one of its newest projects in New Tampa, a sensory friendly 5-acre park.

As the first of its kind in the city, the park aims to maintain an all-inclusive approach from design to completion. It will be located behind the B.J.'s Wholesale Club on Commerce Palms Dr. in Tampa Palms.

City Councilman Luis Viera, a big supporter for the park, noted that New Tampa is an area where there are a lot of families raising children with special needs.

While the city has made steps to include these children, the development of this park is something that will build on those efforts.

"Autism is something that I grew up with and it's something that a lot of families raising children with special needs feel like they don't have respect in our culture, respect from our government, or just basic representation," said Viera, whose brother is autistic.

"It's important for local governments and state governments to adopt policies that affirm the humanity of this very important population."

The city has hired David Conner & Associates to design the park and the firm is taking every detail into consideration, from ensuring the design is environmentally friendly to gaining community insight on amenities, and creating a safe and inclusive playground complete with Autism-focused elements.

"There's a lot here that's very intriguing," said Tom Wagner, West Meadows resident and local realtor. "I think that if they're able to do the things that people really like on these boards then it'll be a very attractive park and a nice addition to New Tampa.

On how the park will impact the real estate market, Wagner pointed out that "park areas are a great way to make neighborhoods more enjoyable, so it's going to help with real estate and prices, and just the overall interest of the area."

The location for the park is a relatively flat area with no natural water within the site, but the Mayor's Autism Friendly Advisory Committee is concerned about adjacent bodies of water.

Another concern is having the proper separation and security in place to avoid any traffic issues or dangers. The city and the design team plan to address both issues.

"It's amazing to me to see how many people are dealing with children with sensory concerns and I think it's a fascinating opportunity to see how we complete that into a new creative park that everybody will love," said David Conner, president of David Conner & Associates. "I think that's what this has the potential to be – something that's unique."

For any residents that would like to submit their input on the park's development, a survey is available online through the end of today (June 22).

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Contact Jennifer Lima at hillsnews@tampabay.com.