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Anonymous donation could complete SunWest Park project

ARIPEKA — An anonymous benefactor plans to donate $600,000 toward the county-owned SunWest Park in Aripeka, money that would be earmarked for additional parking, a second restroom and a splash pad for children.

Those amenities, included in the unscheduled second phase of the park's construction, have been a bone of contention among commissioners for the past 18 months as Commissioner Jack Mariano has lobbied often, but unsuccessfully, to get those items expedited with public money.

Now, they could be constructed with private donations. The county previously estimated the cost of building the parking lot, splash pad and restroom at $1.45 million.

Under the working scenario, Gary Grubbs, owner of the adjoining property envisioned as the SunWest Harbourtowne resort and residential community, would match the contribution with in-kind donations to complete the park addition.

"As soon as the money is verified, we've committed to complete whatever it takes to get the park in full working capacity,'' Grubbs said.

Mariano described the benefactor as a retiree who has lived in Pasco County for about 20 years. He said the man had followed the park's development, asked for a tour and volunteered financial assistance. Details were still being ironed out last week, but Mariano briefly mentioned the donation to commissioners in a public meeting and said he hoped to be able to share all of the information by Sept. 22.

Later, he said the plan calls for the donation to be sent to Students Survival Inc., a 2-year-old nonprofit group working to bolster the community and to assist low-income Hudson-area children with after-school programs and sports activities. That group is holding a 3-on-3 sand soccer tournament at the park next weekend. The nonprofit's subsidiary, Friends of SunWest Park, will coordinate disbursing the donation toward construction.

"We're very excited,'' said Jamie Maloney, executive director of Students Survival Inc. "We'll be able to leverage that donation into some great things for the community. The better the community, the better it is for the children.''

Grubbs concurred.

"There's a lot of people in this region who need a place to take their children, to hang out and have fun and family activities,'' he said. "We've just got to get this thing done.''

Grubbs said the park construction could be completed by late March if the donated money is received within the next few weeks.

The donations are separate from the wakeboarding attraction to be installed by park operator Patrick Panakos.

The county spent $3.85 million to build the first phase of the beach park surrounding a 70-acre lake facing the Gulf of Mexico. The park is publicly owned, but privately operated and features swimming, kayaking, paddleboarding and a floating park of inflated slides and climbing walls. It opened on Fourth of July weekend, operates six days a week and has attracted substantial use.

"If the sun's shining, it fills up,'' said Grubbs. "It's definitely a big hit.''

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