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Sarasota Thursday, Jul. 7, 2011 9 years ago

Our View: Sell Payne Park


The city of Sarasota is working diligently on a marketing and spending plan to get people to Payne Park, an underutilized city facility. In fact, the city is looking at many ways to attract people to the park, which since its opening four years ago has been a disappointment.

The park has 12 tennis courts, a skate park operated by a non-profit group, walking areas with fountains and a small auditorium. And it has a great history, opening in 1924 as a smaller version and serving as the home of Major League Baseball spring training for the Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox and New York Giants over the years. Part of it sits on a former mobile home park the city bought and tore down to expand the park in the 1990s, including creating the walking tracks.

But it remains not particularly popular.

So Mayor Suzanne Atwell is making it one of her top priorities to try to increase the number of people going to the park, and the City Commission seems to be on board. The city is adding a playground and more parking at a cost of up to $1.1 million. The city is also considering building a shade structure and is planning to install security cameras.

“I’m really excited about this,” Atwell told Sarasota Observer City Editor Rob Roy. “I’ve been talking about activity in the park for a long time.”

But you see, that is just the problem. Why?

Broken record time: Government should only be involved in those things that are necessities and the private sector will not do. Payne Park’s amenities are quite obviously not necessities, and the private sector already provides loads of other — better? — entertainment.

Just maybe the park is underutilized because people do not want to use it. They would rather do other things. If this were private enterprise and private dollars — not tax dollars — it would have been shut down, sold and a higher use found for the land.

Perhaps that is just what should happen with Payne Park. Don’t gasp, you handful of people who use the tennis courts or the skate park. Some will argue the skate park is important because it gives kids something to do — you know, to keep them off the streets or whatever. No. Wrong. That is dad and mom’s responsibility, not the city’s.

This is a good example of what is often referred to as “nanny government.” The city builds a park so bored kids won’t make bad decisions. Where are the parents?

Regardless, the market is not screaming that it wants this facility. As long as all these prime downtown acres are owned by the city, they are off the productive tax rolls — which would help everyone, not a few tennis players and skateboarders.

By continuing to pour tax money into the facility in capital and marketing, and by keeping it publicly owned, the city continues to create an unnecessary financial hardship on itself, its employees and its citizens — who apparently are not interested in the park.

+ Security sadly needed
That the City Commission feels the need for more security at commission meetings is a sad statement.
But as long as former Mayor Richard Martin trots homeless men with violent tendencies into the meetings to make a point — and the point being made is probably not the one Martin intended — the need is real.

The city currently has one police officer in the meeting, and that oficer rotates. The commission is looking at other security procedures, including having the same officer each time so that person is better prepared.

But it must also be said that Mayor Suzanne Atwell did not use her gavel much during that meeting, and a mayor must maintain control of a meeting. She wanted the job. She has to bang the gavel.

And maybe former officials will discontinue using dangerous tactics to make a political point.


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