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Neighborhood Report

DeSoto Park getting $1.5-million in upgrades

The long-awaited changes at DeSoto Park include a pool, skate park and some habitat restoration.

By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 27, 2002

If, as many people say, DeSoto Park is a hidden gem, then the city is about to polish it and put it on display.

Construction on more than $1.5-million in improvements began this month. The changes include an aquatic center, a skate park and re-creation of a natural habitat where once there was a seedy mobile home park.

"It's still taking too long," said Vince Ficarrotta, a past president of the Palmetto Beach Community Association. "But we're happy to see it happening."

Neighbors began pitching ideas for the park, known for its oaks, palms and panoramic view of McKay Bay, a decade ago. "It was pie in the sky," Ficarrotta said.

But slowly, ingredients fell into place. So did the money.

One key: buying the mobile home park. The city paid $715,000 in 1995 for 3.75 acres.

Its aging homes bordered the city land and attracted drugs and crime. Removal set the stage for change.

The skate park will be geared toward BMX bicyclists, skateboarders and in-line skaters. Survey work began this week.

The 7,000-square foot pool will include a standard lap pool and a "beach entrance" with a gradual slope. A changing room is part of the package.

The habitat restoration begins with the removal of a 500-foot-long concrete wall abutting the bay. Oyster bars and tidal pools will be created. Palms and marsh grass will be planted.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District is a partner in that part of the plan.

A gym and tennis courts are on tap, too, city officials said. But the money for those projects isn't there yet.

The skate park should be open by early spring, the pool by late fall. The restoration work should be finished by summer.

Dirt removed for restoration will end up 100 yards south to improve drainage for a new athletic field for baseball, softball and soccer. The field should be ready by fall 2003.

About 50 new parking spaces are on the way, too.

Despite the changes, no oaks or palms will be cut down, the city says.

The trees are "what make this park unique," said Brad Suder, a landscape architect with the parks department and the project's manager.

The changes will do more for Palmetto Beach than enhance recreation, neighbors say.

In his home, Ficarrotta keeps a postcard that shows women in Victorian dress, standing on a beach, flanked by palms. It's Palmetto Beach from a different era.

In the late 1800s, before construction of Bermuda Boulevard, Palmetto Beach had a beach -- and people traveled for miles to get to it, Ficarrotta said.

Chances of a new beach are slim to none. But a revitalized park "will bring people back to this part of town," he said.

Other neighborhood projects are in the works, too, said Luis Ruiz, current president of the neighborhood association. He pointed to a proposed child care center next to DeSoto Elementary School and talk of a marina.

All these things will "create pride in the neighborhood," he said.

-- Staff writer Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3405 or .

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