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    Coachman Park dedication set

    E.H. Coachman sold the land to Clearwater decades ago. This weekend, 83 family members will be in town for the festivities.

    By CHRISTINA HEADRICK

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 12, 2001


    CLEARWATER -- Some 56 years ago, one of this city's founding businessmen, E.H. Coachman, sold Clearwater his land on the city's hilly downtown waterfront for $40,000.

    Somewhat belatedly, government officials and members of the Coachman family will gather Saturday for a dedication ceremony.

    The land will be officially christened as Coachman Park, a name already familiar to the Tampa Bay area because of events such as Jazz Holiday that are held there.

    Descendants of the pioneer Coachman family had been seeking what they believe is the first dedication of the land as a park for about two years.

    They had argued that part of the land originally sold to the city with the understanding it would be used for a park had already been paved over for parking lots that serve the Harborview Center and main library.

    "About time," said Anne Coachman Epling, the granddaughter of E.H. Coachman's brother, S.S. Coachman. "The family has been wanting this for a long time."

    "I have no idea why it was wasn't done right away," said Shirley Coachman Moravec, Epling's cousin. "I think it was just an oversight. . . . We would like to see lots of people come down and celebrate the dedication of the park."

    E.H. Coachman and his brother, S.S. Coachman, came to the Clearwater area around 1884.

    They ran a lumber mill that supplied wood for buildings such as the Belleview Biltmore Resort, operated acres of citrus groves and helped found longtime city enterprises such as First National Bank. Both were city commissioners, and S.S. Coachman led Pinellas County's first Board of Commissioners.

    Coupled with the dedication, 83 members of the Coachman family from as far as Los Angeles, New York and Michigan will be in town over the weekend for a family reunion, Epling said.

    The private affair will be a catered barbecue with homemade ice cream for dessert, held at Epling's 3-acre property off Old Coachman Road on land that was once a Coachman family citrus grove.

    The family plans to start the day at Coachman Park with the dedication, Moravec said.

    The ceremony isn't legally binding on future commissions to maintain Coachman Park as a park, City Attorney Pam Akin said.

    More importantly, she said, the parkland already is protected by the city's charter. That document requires a referendum before the city can sell the land and have it redeveloped as anything other than a recreation area.

    Still, the ceremony this weekend symbolically expresses the City Commission's promise last year that the park will never be commercially developed, Mayor Brian Aungst said.

    The commission voted in August to hold the tardy dedication in an effort to put to rest some concerns that the park was in jeopardy of being commercialized. Those concerns were raised before last year's downtown plan referendum. The dedication ceremony should be pretty simple, with a few words from Mayor Brian Aungst and the Coachman family followed by light refreshments in the park, said Kevin Dunbar, the city's parks and recreation director. The ceremony begins around 9 a.m.

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