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Sarasota Thursday, Jul. 8, 2010 7 years ago

City seeks task-force members

by: Robin Roy City Editor

It’s referred to as Sarasota’s “Central Park,” and with such a lofty description, the city of Sarasota wants to treat Payne Park as an important cog in its parks system.

As it prepares to revise the park’s master plan, city parks staff members are reaching out to community members to help reshape the park. The city is not looking for input just from Payne Park neighbors, it wants all Sarasota residents to help.

Payne Park officially opened in September 2007, after the completion of phase I of construction. Four different phases were planned, with each one adding more amenities to the park.

Now the Payne Park master plan has to be revised, because of an 88% reduction in funding for the park’s second phase.

More than $9 million was originally slated for phase II, but most of the money was used for the pursuit of the Boston Red Sox.

To try to lure the team’s spring-training operations to Sarasota, the city used $5 million of the phase II money to purchase land between the park and U.S. 301, where it intended to build a new baseball stadium.

The deal didn’t take place, and most of that land now sits empty.

Bad economic times have reduced the phase II pool of money even further; the city now has $1 million for the project.

During a June 29 meeting with community members, city staff began a search for interested citizens to become part of a task force to rework the park’s master plan.

Todd Kucharski, parks and recreation general manager, said the task-force members can be as involved in the park-planning process as they want.

“This is your community,” he told them.

Potential task-force members inquired about the use of the purchased land on U.S. 301.

“Why can’t the city sell the lots and use that money to build phase II?” asked Virginia Hoffman.

Kurcharski said because of the timing of the market, the city may take a loss on that transaction, so it probably would not sell it now.

Some of the possible amenities that Kucharski and his staff initially recommended are a circus-themed playground to be placed between the auditorium and walking track, new restroom in the same vicinity, more picnic tables, additional parking and an electronic sign at U.S. 301 and Laurel Street.

Several amenities that had been planned for phase II and had to be dropped because of the reduced funding include a rebuilt auditorium, new amphitheater and streetscaping along Laurel Street.

Phases III and IV are currently undefined and unfunded.

After the June 29 meeting, 13 people signed up to become task-force members. Kucharski said he will likely pare that list down to nine.

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