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New parks, athletic fields a priority in Sarasota County

County leaders began steps to creating four new athletic complexes and three new destination playgrounds.

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  • | 3:15 p.m. June 15, 2021
Leaders are considering adding three destination playgrounds throughout the county.
Leaders are considering adding three destination playgrounds throughout the county.
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In April, the county parks department unveiled a plan to overhaul many of the county’s athletics complexes in an effort to revamp sports tourism in the area. 

It's also looking to build new parks, as well. 

It’s been about 25 years since the county build the last large-scale park, and now it’s considering four new locations for athletics complexes and three for destination playgrounds. 

New sports complexes are being considered in east county in the Hi Hat Ranch Area, in central county near State Road 681 and in South County near the Wellen Park Area. North county would see a new complex as part of a proposed $56 million project at 17th Street Regional Park. 

The central, south and east county locations have potential to be developed as private and/or municipal partnerships with funding sources such as park impact fees, the county surtax, naming opportunities and a park tax referendum. 

The 17th Street park will be designed in two phases. The first, estimated at $35 million, will include design and construction of facilities on former utilities property. Phase two, estimated at $21 million, would include new dog parks and multipurpose fields, among other things. 

Director of Parks, Recreational and Natural Resources Nicole Rissler said the county has about $10 million in impact fees, about $500,000 in surtax funds and $2.5 million in estimated proceeds from the sale of a property at Tuttle Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way to put toward the park.

RELATED: County considers dedicated sports tourism funding

That still leaves a funding gap of $20 million to $23 million for phase one of the project. However, Commission Chair Al Maio said the county shouldn’t balk at the cost because the benefits will outweigh the initial price tag. 

“We’re going to eat these parks a piece at a time, just like you would eat an elephant,” he said. “We’re going to eat this a step at a time because these are big, important projects.” 

When selecting a location for potential destination playgrounds, several key elements were considered including features, potential themes, parking, restrooms, pavilions and landscaping. 

County staff settled on three locations spread throughout the county based on geography and future growth: one within the future 17th Street Regional Park, another in the Knight Trail/Pinelands area and the final in either the Tuscano Park site or Wellen Park area. 

Rissler said the 17th Street park would be designed and built first as part of the regional park buildout. The other two would be developed as funding becomes available. 

Initial concept planning for the Wellen Park lists an indoor facility as a future possibility. 

Commissioner Christian Ziegler said he supports a destination playground in the county, but expressed concern that if three were pursued, the facilities would be a small-scale version of the original plans.

Instead, he proposed creating one giant facility, similar to Common Ground Park in Lakeland, that could attract families from out of the county. 

“I think it’s important to consolidate it because people will drive for a massive facility, if we do it in the county,” he said. “Whatever we can do to really make sure that when we build it out, it’s dynamic and that it’s not just another playground.” 

The destination park would then, Ziegler said, be a break for parents who have children participating in tournaments at one of the county’s destination sports complexes.