With more than $2 million slated for investment in Arlington Park, the city is seeking citizen feedback on improvements — but how much is too much for nearby residents?
Arlington Park consists of about 23 acres of land near the middle of the city of Sarasota, embedded in a residential neighborhood that shares the same name.
By the city’s standards, the park has a robust list of amenities, chief among them an aquatic center with three pools — two of which are currently open to the public. The park itself includes a half-mile walking trail, and the indoor facility touts a workout room and basketball court.
Owned by the city and operated by the county, staff members from both governments agree the facility is in need of some upkeep. The city has $2.5 million in penny sales tax funds budgeted for improvements to Arlington Park during the next two years. In anticipation of the upcoming investment, the city is beginning to solicit input from residents to get a sense of what specific upgrades are desired.
Staff, along with consulting firm Perez Planning and Design, held a series of community workshops Friday and Saturday, inviting citizens to share their thoughts on the future of Arlington Park. A long list of potential projects began to develop, and officials will work to grow that list by conducting more information-gathering sessions.
Although there was a consensus that improvements are needed, an issue quickly presented itself during the discussions. The city is eager to improve its parks and recreation offerings, capitalizing on a demand from a vocal group of residents interested in a higher level of service at Sarasota’s municipal parks. As a revenue-generating facility, Arlington Park presents a realistic venue at which that goal can be achieved.
Among residents of Arlington Park, however, there is a concern that robust upgrades could come with negative side effects. Neighbors are concerned about sacrificing green space for additional parking, and about increased traffic if the facility becomes a destination for residents in the city and county.
“People feel like, ‘I moved to Arlington Park because of the nice park in the neighborhood here,’” said Terry Langlois, treasurer of the Arlington Park Neighborhood Association. “If you have a million people coming here, that kind of detracts from that.”
“You have this beautiful park, which has all sorts of things that serve more than just the neighborhood, buried inside a neighborhood.” — Dave Barth
At Saturday’s open-house style meeting, visitors were encouraged to write their desired improvements on post-it notes stuck to an aerial map of Arlington Park. The results further speak to the tension between neighborhood and a high level of service. Some called for increased programming and additional or enlarged amenities, such as the fitness center, which is actually a repurposed storage room.
Others, however, saw little wrong with the status quo.
“Fitness center not needed,” one note read. “Many fitness centers in the area.”
Consultant Dave Barth said it was an issue with no easy answer. The consultants plan to gather as much information as they can, and the City Commission will decide the ultimate direction when a report is finalized.
“That’s one of the conundrums you have here,” Barth said. “You have this beautiful park, which has all sorts of things that serve more than just the neighborhood, buried inside a neighborhood.”
Despite the resident trepidation, both city and county staff expressed an interest in pushing ahead with expanded offerings at Arlington Park. Not all neighboring residents are opposed to those types of improvements.
Todd Kucharski, the city’s public works general manager, said the impetus for the needs assessment came after residents expressed interest in a broader plan for upgrading the park than originally intended. The money was budgeted for construction of a community center on the property, an amenity in which residents are still interested.
Among residents with younger children, in particular, there is a desire for more family-friendly amenities. Wyatt Richardson, a program coordinator with the county, listed a splash pad as his top priority for the park. The 50-meter and 25-foot pools at the aquatic center get plenty of use, primarily for laps and water aerobics. The wading pool, however, is currently closed.
“Without the baby pool there, there isn’t really a way to keep younger families engaged,” Richardson said.
Other strains of conversation emerged during the weekend meetings. If the vegetation in the park could be cleaned up and the walking trail were repaved, it would create a much more pleasant atmosphere. More community meeting and activity space would be welcomed. A two-story building on the current footprint could avoid the loss of any green space. The existing facilities definitely need to be renovated.
Kucharski said staff plans to put out an online survey next week to generate more feedback from residents citywide. The consultant intended to finish its report in September, though the additional survey could extend that timeline slightly.
Just as the city wants to garner more responses for the needs assessment, Arlington Park neighborhood leaders want to make sure residents are more engaged. Arlington Park Neighborhood Association Vice President Nathan Wilson said the group intends to send out a mailer when the survey goes live, encouraging the neighborhood to speak up.
Although the neighborhood association hasn’t had a formal discussion regarding the future of the park, Wilson believes there’s ample room for a compromise that satisfies all sides.
“There is some concern about becoming a tourist attraction because of parking and traffic,” Wilson said. “But we want to be part of the community for all of Sarasota — we want to invite that. We just want to be cautious.”