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Parks report suggests $54 million in recreation renovations


Published:   |   Updated: March 6, 2014 at 08:52 AM

The report ranks the top 34 projects and shows that residents like Clearwater's playgrounds.
 
CLEARWATER — City residents are a playful bunch. And Clearwater's parks and recreation director wants to keep it that way.
 
Kevin Dunbar last year initiated an evaluation of the 2002 Master Plan for parks and recreation that ranks existing facilities and suggests improvements. City staff asked for public input, and evaluated demographic trends and other factors to gauge his department's level of service and to create guidelines for the next 10 years.
 
The updated plan was brought before the city council Monday for discussion. It proposes 34 capital improvement projects estimated at nearly $54 million.
 
How will the city pay for those projects, if approved? The city's general fund and grants could provide some funding, the report suggests. And about $35 million would come from penny sales tax proceeds available this decade and next.
 
Voters passed the first Penny for Pinellas sales tax in 1990 and twice have approved 10-year extensions, taking the program to 2020. Proceeds are divvied among the county and its cities to fund capital improvement projects like parks, preservation land purchases, roads, bridges, stormwater management, public safety and community centers. The Penny's next extension, for 2020-30, has yet to go before voters.
 
Most of the 625 residents surveyed about parks and recreation said operating costs of facilities and programs should come from taxes with minimal dependency on user fees. And an overwhelming majority opposed funding exclusively through such fees.
 
While “playing at a playground” was not among the top activities chosen, it was considered as one of the most important offerings. Instead, providing nature parks and community events received high rankings. The Pinellas Trail, Ream Wilson Trail and Bright House Networks Field were selected as top amenities. Deemed least important were shuffleboard and skate parks.
 
But the city is falling behind on upkeep of its 110 park facilities, according to the report. The recreation staff has attempted to address repair and replacement needs through the city's capital improvement plan; however, funding for such projects hasn't increased in the past 10 years.
 
The staff recommended increasing annual maintenance funding by $203,750, a 25 percent increase.
 
Here are the top four proposed capital improvement projects:
 
• Redeveloping Coachman Park, a carryover from the 2002 master plan, is estimated to cost $5 million with a $75,000 annual operations and maintenance budget that includes one full-time employee. It's now proposed for penny funding in 2019-20.
 
• Constructing a neighborhood center at Morningside Park, a priority from the 2002 plan, is estimated to cost $2.6 million with a $175,000 budget that includes 3.75 full-time staff. The project was slated for 2007-08 but didn't happen; a new date wasn't identified.
 
• Resurfacing Ream Wilson Trail made the list for the first time. The estimated cost is $250 million, and the project is considered a candidate for Penny proceeds in 2020-30.
 
• Upgrading the pools and redoing or adding basketball courts at Clearwater Beach recreation center, the Long Center, Ross Norton recreation complex, Countryside Community Park and the North Greenwood complex. That work carries an $8 million price tag and is another candidate for Penny funds in 2020-30.
 
The wish list also includes:
 
• Renovating Crest Lake Park with new exercise equipment, lighting, playgrounds, grassy areas, water fountains, restrooms and improved security for $1.5 million, with a $65,000 annual budget. The project was proposed for fiscal years 2017-18 and 2018-19.
 
• Renovating Cooper's Bayou Park by expanding the parking lot, adding bathrooms and building a boardwalk and look-out tower over Tampa Bay. The cost was estimated at $5 million and was proposed for 2020-30 Penny funds.
 
• Expanding McMullen Tennis Complex to include eight more clay courts, eight new pickleball courts, tennis courts for players 10 and younger, a new clubhouse, permanent parking and a renovated tennis stadium at a cost of $1.6 million, with an $80,000 budget. Money would come from grants, the capital improvement fund and 2020-30 Penny proceeds.
 
• Expanding the city's bike trails. Based on statewide guidelines, Dunbar said a city of Clearwater's size needs around 54 miles of trails and currently has almost 15 miles. The guidelines also recommend eight miles of nature trails, which the city exceeds by eight miles, and 2.6 miles of equestrian trails, which is 1.5 miles more than what Clearwater now offers. The $3 million price tag could be funded by the current Penny program over the next four years.
 
The single largest project identified was the renovation of Bright House Networks Field at a cost of $10 million to $12 million. The stadium was built in 2004 and opened in 2005. Proposed funding sources are the 2020-30 Penny proceeds, grants, and assistance from the county and state.
 
To review the 2013 master plan update, go online to http://tinyurl.com/m8fa3q8.

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