The commission temporarily puts the concept plan in park to allow Town Manager Dave Bullock to bring costs down.
The Longboat Key Town Commission could have approved a final concept plan for a Bayfront Park, which has been waiting for a facelift for 15 years at Monday’s night meeting. But when the $3.9 million estimate for Longboat Key’s share of the costs made Town Manager Dave Bullock’s eyes bulge, the commission opted to hold off to allow him to modify the proposal.
Bullock received the estimate just a couple hours before the 7 p.m. regular meeting at Town Hall. It made a town manager known for keeping close watch over expenses stop the approval train.
‘The original intent was to ask you to bless it and let us go,” Bullock said. “But budget numbers we just saw this evening give me pause. It’s more money than we can commit to. We need to get that number down within range and work on that.”
Bullock noted the concept plan wasn’t supposed to come before commissioners until the regular workshop in two weeks.
“It was my decision to bring it to you two weeks earlier to get a jump on this but I need to work with these folks on the budget,” Bullock said. “If we have to cut some elements (out of the park), I can bring that proposal back to you in a couple weeks.”
The budget element of the park presentation Monday night was not included in a PowerPoint presentation Monday night presented by Wannemacher Jensen Architects Inc. principal Lisa Wannemacher.
Wannemacher was charged with combining a 2003 community center concept with a 2009 park concept. Bullock noted that Sarasota County will also provide money for the park, and discussions need to occur with county officials to agree on future costs.
Conceptually, all seven commissioners are on board with a proposal that hasn’t changed much since Sarasota County parks officials created the concept plan for the park after holding public workshops in 2009 at Bayfront Park. Sarasota County purchased a 3.88-acre parcel adjacent to the town in 2007, becoming a partner with the town to redesign the park.
Park modifications include a kayak launch, shuffleboard, pickleball and tennis courts, a bocce ball space, a dog park, an enhanced playground, a dog park and walking trails (see map).
“This is the Cadillac of what Bayfront Park can be,” Wannemacher said.
Wannemacher noted there are three areas in the park that can be used for a future recreation center if the town chooses to knock down the existing rec center and build a new one at a later date.
Commissioners unanimously approved a motion that allows Bullock to immediately seek grants to help pay for the project from the Southwest Florida Management District (to pay for a mangrove educational boardwalk) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (to pay for new piers, waterway markers and a kayak launch). They also approved a motion for the park concept to continue within the town’s budget.
“With a combination of town funds, county funds and grant funds and working on ways to reduce costs, the goal is to deliver something as doggone close to this as we can within available funds,” Bullock said. “I’m way more comfortable in the 2’s than I am in the 3’s and I’m even more comfortable in the 1’s.”
The town also has an open space/parks and recreational fund with approximately $2 million in the account that can be used to help pay for park costs.
Wannemacher, whose firm has designed 14 recreational centers in the area and several parks, suggests the commission choose a construction manager early on in the process to assist with design and planning to help cut down on costs.
Mayor Jim Brown suggested the town also consider working with Key dog owners and organizations like the Longboat Key Rotary Club, which might be willing to organize how a dog park should operate.
“The town is not willing to hire staff to run a dog park,” Brown said.
Resident and commission candidate Larry Grossman urged the town to consider adjusting the location of the playground to provide more visibility for parents and grandparents and modify the entrance and exits to a park that many motorists have trouble seeing and pass the park before they notice its signs.
Brown, who served as the chairman of the community center advisory committee in 2002, said he was happy the park concept was finally heading in the right direction as he approached his term limit for his District 4 commission seat next week.
“It’s been one of my top priorities and this park plan is more than 14 years in the making,” Brown said. “To say it’s time to move on this is an understatement.”
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected].