The city has the neighborhood's support as it plans to remove a shade structure from the park.
A structure that has stood in a Sarasota park for more than four decades will soon come down.
City staff recently determined the pavilion at Gillespie Park is structurally unsound and needs to be demolished. In August, the city demolished a smaller gazebo in the park and found wood rot and termite damage. Staff said the pavilion was built using similar materials and methods as the gazebo and therefore was likely at risk for the same issues.
“Forty-plus years is a more-than-acceptable life cycle for a park amenity of this type,” parks department crew leader Wes Byington said in an email. “In fact, to the best of my knowledge, there are only three things in any of our parks older than this structure: Lido Pavilion, the Doughboy statue and the fountain at Bonita Park.”
The pavilion demolition was a subject of discussion at Tuesday’s City Commission meeting, where it drew near-unanimous support from Gillespie Park residents in attendance. Residents from the north-of-downtown neighborhood associated the pavilion with the facilitation of illicit activity, such as drug dealing, and they said the park has been safer and gotten more use since the city fenced off the pavilion last year.
Although the park will lose an amenity, people living in the surrounding neighborhood aren’t necessarily eager to see it replaced. Charles Morris, secretary of the Gillespie Park Neighborhood Association, said the negative perception of the pavilion and the positive experience once it was closed meant residents did not want to see the city install a new shade structure.
“We’re really not wanting another pavilion created,” Morris said.
Linda Holland, president of the Gillespie Park Neighborhood Association, said the city intends to remove most of the concrete pad beneath the pavilion and plant sod. Holland thinks there are opportunities to capitalize on the new open space, including expanding a butterfly garden adjacent to the pavilion or extending a fitness trail.
Holland also noted the city has developed a parks master plan that, if funded, would include improvements at Gillespie Park in fiscal year 2025. Holland thinks in the future, the neighborhood could be interested in discussing more significant changes to the park, including the area where the pavilion stands today. For now, she’s content with just testing how the park functions without the pavilion.
“Let it see how it’s going to pan out,” Holland said. “We’ve got plenty of time.”
In a Jan. 16 email, Parks and Recreation Director Jerry Fogle said city staff is meeting with demolition contractors ahead of soliciting quotes for demolition. Fogle said it could take up to a month for a project to go out to bid, with a demolition schedule still to be determined.
In November, Gillespie Park residents appeared in front of the City Commission advocating for the revival of the Gillespie Park Neighborhood Improvement District, a funding mechanism established in 1988 that had been dormant for decades.
On Tuesday, however, the commission moved in the opposite direction, unanimously directing staff to prepare an ordinance to eliminate the district.
City attorney Robert Fournier authored a memo recommending dissolving the neighborhood improvement district. Fournier said the district included requirements to collect data on criminal activity in the neighborhood that would be demanding of city staff. He also thought the district was not essential for the city to take action on the topics about which residents were concerned — such as the presence of the pavilion.
“It’s my opinion that the issues that were raised about problems in the neighborhood can be addressed just as adequately, if not more so, without this district,” Fournier said.