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Sarasota Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021 2 days ago

Rosemary District raises funds for park purchase

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After years of lobbying, the neighborhood is on the verge of securing land to convert into public open space.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

The property at 531 Central Ave. is vacant today, but a green fence around its perimeter is a symbol of what Rosemary District residents hope to build there.

On Jan. 1, the Rosemary District Association held an event designed to raise money for — and awareness about — an effort to bring a park to the north-of-downtown neighborhood. Stakeholders teamed up to apply a vibrant green coat of paint to a fence on a site the city has negotiated to purchase with the intent to turn it into public green space.

Although the city has budgeted $890,000 to buy the quarter-acre of land at 531 Central Ave. and 1386 Boulevard of the Arts, the Rosemary District Association is raising an additional $120,000 necessary to complete the $1.01 million purchase. In October, the city and the neighborhood agreed to team up on the acquisition of the property, hoping to fulfill residents’ requests to create parkland in the north-of-downtown community.

With a closing date at the end of the month, the neighborhood hasn’t secured all of the money it needs, but association leaders are optimistic about hitting their mark as they continue to raise funds. Rosemary District Association President Debbie Trice said the group solicited donations from throughout the neighborhood, hoping to create a shared sense of ownership.

In addition to some large contributions, Trice said the association received about 100 small donations from within the neighborhood, with gifts ranging from $10 to $250.

“This is really a communitywide effort,” Trice said.

The City Commission is scheduled to vote on finalizing a purchase agreement at its Jan. 19 meeting. Although the land acquisition is not yet final, Rosemary District residents have had preliminary conversations about their visions for the park project. Based on input the association has received, Trice said residents are interested in making the park a hub for activity.

In an area composed primarily of multifamily housing, Trice said neighbors are excited about having a place to gather with friends or walk their dogs.

“People want to use the park,” Trice said.

The neighborhood has also talked to city staff about how the process of designing the park might play out. David Lough, a member of the Rosemary District Association board, said residents wanted to continue to work in close collaboration with city staff on developing a vision for any project. Lough said the association was brainstorming options for adding features to the park, making it a destination the neighborhood would be eager to use even if they don’t live next door.

“We don’t want this to be an Ikea model, a cookie-cutter kind of thing,” Lough said. “We want a quality park, without going too over the top.”

In an email, city spokesperson Jan Thornburg said tentative plans call for the park to be designed in fiscal year 2021 and constructed in fiscal year 2022.

“Once the properties are acquired, staff will move forward with scheduling community meetings, which will be conducted with the assistance of a landscape architect,” Thornburg said.

As the association has worked to raise money, both Trice and Lough said enthusiasm for a park project is palpable. Lough noted that this isn’t the first time people have lobbied for a park in the Rosemary District, but following a population boom in the neighborhood associated with new construction, he said the idea has gained new traction.

“We’re getting incredible engagement,” Lough said.

Rosemary District leaders hope that in the not-too-distant future, that engagement will have translated into a park the neighborhood can call its own.

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