As the town of Longboat Key starts the $3.5 million revamp of the park, permitting remains uncertain.
It may look like an eyesore, but when Longboat Key Streets, Facilities and Parks and Recreation Manager Mark Richardson looks at the 900-foot chain-link fence surrounding Bayfront Park, he sees a beacon of hope.
“The fence going up means we’ve got it, the money’s in place, everything’s in place and this is actually going to happen,” said Richardson, who has watched as town leaders and staff have planned the $3.5 million revamp of the parkland for longer his entire 10-year career on Longboat. “To me, being a true recreation guy, that’s exciting.”
Contractor Jon F. Swift Construction, the private construction manager for the project, began erecting fence up this week, and will install a two-foot tall black silt fence to block runoff, taking the first steps in a the estimated year-long revitalization.
Today, as Public Works Director Juan Florensa traversed the island to assess beach conditions, he noticed a construction trailer had appeared on site.
“I definitely didn’t see that this morning,” Florensa said.
Those initial construction items signal the start of the project, but state and federal permitting remains the last big hurdle for Bayfront Park, as has been the case for numerous town projects, such as the mid-Key truck haul.
Richardson and Jon F. Swift Construction have secured a tree-removal permit and fence permit from the town. But, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers still have to sign off on the plans, which include a kayak launch, dog park, fishing docks and a rain garden, which helps filter stormwater runoff.
“Everybody told me those take long, and I found out really it does take that long,” Richardson said, noting he should hear from the FDEP next week about that permit.
Jon F. Swift can tear down the fence around the aging baseball field and begin removing or relocating trees, but won’t be able to start significant site work until the FDEP permit is secured.
“Thats the most important permit, because it allows us to turn dirt,” Richardson said.
Still, residents who have been vocal about the project getting started, such as former Longboat Key Garden Club President Madelyn Spoll, are pleased to see some progress on Bayfront Park. In fact, because the construction wasn’t supposed to officially begin until Tuesday, the fences rising are a sign the project is about a week ahead of schedule.
“After I heard about it, and after (my husband) picked me up off the floor from shock, I said ‘yay, miracles are real’,” Spoll said.
And while it may cause some uncertainty over the next month, the permitting issues shouldn’t ultimately affect the overall timeline, which has a completion slated for June 20, 2017.
The price tag for the project has bounced between $3 million and $4 million over the last two years, and one of the first major delays came after Town Manager Dave Bullock halted planning to reign in spending estimates last March. Richardson said although it was unlikely, unknown factors, such as the contractor digging into the park and finding multiple tree stumps, or other uncertainties could add to the current $3.5 million estimate.
“Any project you do, whether it’s building your own house or building a park, you're going to come into some unforeseen things you weren’t planning for,” Richardson said. “And you just deal with it, and move on.”
The town and Sarasota County have partnered in funding the park, with about $2 million coming from county surtax money, the Neighborhood Parkland Acquisition Program and tourist development taxes. The West Coast Inland Navigation District provided a $400,000 grant for the project.
“We’re thankful for everyone’s cooperation, the county’s been great both at the commission level and their staff,” Bullock said. “They recognize they own part of the park and they really want to make a nice amenity for everyone, especially the people who live here.”
Richardson said while he’s most excited about the fact that the project is finally starting, residents seem most eager about the dog park, which Bullock echoed in a follow-up interview with the Longboat Observer.
“Some people don’t even realize there’s going to be a dog park here,” Richardson said. “And that’s going to be a great feature we have nowhere else on the Key.”
Along with previously mentioned amenities, the project will loop the roadway through the park and connect twice at Gulf of Mexico drive, so visitors will have more than one entrance. There will also be tennis courts, shuffleboard courts, a basketball court and space for pickleball.
“Wait until you see how it looks when the fence comes down,” Richardson said. “This is going to transform into great park for residents and visitors alike.”