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Paul Thorpe Park master plan
Sarasota Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017 3 years ago

City unveils Paul Thorpe Park plans

Proposed changes include enhanced landscaping and bricked streets along Lemon Avenue, but when will the improvements actually happen?
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

Next week, city staff is prepared to present an ambitious plan for reconfiguring Paul Thorpe Park and the nearby segment of Lemon Avenue downtown.

The master plan calls for reshaping the park, located at Lemon and Pineapple avenues, around the signature mermaid fountain that sits in its center. The proposal adds more trees and plants to the park, as well as seating in a plaza near the fountain.

It would also remove the curbs along Lemon Avenue between Pineapple and State Street. This creates another plaza area for events in the middle of the street, as the city aims to encourage more activity in the smaller, less utilized portion of a park Lemon Avenue divides into two.

And the scope extends out of the park, too. The plan recommends a brick-paved Lemon Avenue from Pineapple to Main Street, mirroring the layout of the Lemon Avenue Mall to the north.

Paul Thorpe Park master plan
Consultant David Conner + Associates produced a plan to redesign Paul Thorpe Park and Lemon Avenue based on community input.

It’s a significant undertaking for the property formerly known as Pineapple Park. The plan, which Tampa-based design firm David Conner + Associates produced, is a sign of the city’s commitment to improving a key piece of downtown public space, city staff says. And resident input was key to formulating the plan.

“We’re really appreciative that the community comes out and voices opinions, suggestions, wants and desires to help develop this project,” said Todd Kucharski, the city’s Public Works general manager. “Because it makes it that much easier for us to bring to life what the community wants to have.”

And yet, among some residents advocating for park improvements, there is dissatisfaction with the proposal.

Barbara Campo, a downtown resident who has lobbied for improvements to Paul Thorpe Park since 2015, pointed to the lack of funding allocated to implement the plan. She fears the focus on improvements to Lemon Avenue, in addition to the park, will delay any project as the city searches for money.

“That means the park is going to sit the way we’re looking at it right now, which is disgraceful,” Campo said.

Kucharski acknowledged the funding questions, and said that was something the City Commission and staff would address once they settled on a plan. Still, he thinks public demand could motivate the city to move quickly.

Although the city invested nearly $150,000 to restore the mermaid fountain this year and rededicated the park to honor downtown leader Paul Thorpe in July, Campo and other residents are still skeptical about the city’s commitment.

The skepticism dates back to 2015, when the city agreed to sell a portion of right-of-way adjacent to the park to a developer for $260,000. With a new building and sidewalk cafe going in right next to the park, Campo fears creating a high-quality public space quickly isn’t a city priority.

But consultant David Conner affirmed Kucharski’s perspective, saying he relied heavily on public input to produce the master plan proposal. One early idea he had was to reconfigure the mermaid fountain, removing the exterior walls to allow visitors to engage with the artwork in the center.

That drew opposition from people who saw the fountain as an immutable part of the park’s identity. So Conner developed a concept that kept the fountain in place while adding shade, another priority residents shared.

Kucharski said it’s unlikely the master plan will change much after next week’s workshop, primarily because it’s rooted in public input received at earlier meetings. Staff hopes to present the plans to the commission in September for further direction.

Despite her concerns, Campo remains hopeful the city can be persuaded to prioritize upgrades to Paul Thorpe Park. She believes park space will become increasingly important as the downtown core continues to develop, which underscores the need to take action soon.

“That park can be absolutely wonderful — if it’s handled correctly,” Campo said.

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