Tampa Bay columnists
Mary Jo Melone
World & Nation
AP The Wire
Comics & Games
Home & Garden
Advertise with the Times
Marina Park plan criticized
By DEBORAH O'NEIL
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 31, 2000
SAFETY HARBOR -- For a year and a half, city officials have labored over pricey plans they think will create a signature waterfront park at the gateway of downtown.
They rejected many of the architect's original ideas for Marina Park and made him revise the plan.
They bickered about whether nine oak trees are too many.
They considered an electronic sign in the park before scrapping the idea.
At last, the city has a design most of the commissioners seem to like. It features a water fountain, an observation deck, a veterans memorial, colorful landscaping and rehabilitation of the existing pier. "It's going to be a beautiful park," said Mayor Pam Corbino.
But now, as the design nears completion, public criticism of the plan and questions about its $812,000 price tag have emerged. One resident recently told the City Commission that developing the park would be the "paving of paradise."
A group of local artists is protesting what it sees as an unoriginal, uninspired design. Some are saying the plans are being rushed without enough citizen input.
"I hate it," said resident Robin Borland, who said she gathered about 50 signatures on a petition objecting to the park plan. "They need to redesign the whole thing."
And in recent weeks, City Commissioner Neil Brickfield challenged the process the city used to hire the design firm, Wade Trim of Tampa, saying the city broke the law by not seeking proposals from other firms. Aside from that issue, Brickfield said the park plan, which was started before he was elected, needs more discussion.
"People are emotional about that park," Brickfield said. "A lot of people live in Safety Harbor so they can be close to the water. They look at the idea of putting stuff on the waterfront very carefully."
Marina Park is a grassy 2.5-acre area with old fashioned lighting and benches. Along the park's winding sidewalks are educational signs highlighting the park's natural surroundings: mangroves and shore birds, the estuary and manatees. Children and adults plop lines into the bay from the park's aging 415-foot pier.
To Safety Harbor resident Anita Marshall, Marina Park is perfect as is, although she agrees the pier should be fixed. Two or three times a week Marshall walks in the park to take in the tranquility.
"We walk. Everybody waits to see if kids catch any fish. We pet all the dogs we see," Marshall said. "We don't do much of anything but that's why we like it. . . . I've never heard anybody down there saying we need anything more."
The city had earmarked money in 1998 to fix the pier, but during the summer budget talks decided to expand the beautification effort and tie the park to downtown.
"The vision always was to do streetscaping and proceed with the park," Corbino said. "Marina Park is going to be such a positive thing for downtown. I see it opening up a a new avenue to have bigger and better events and to attract people to downtown."
In January 1999 a Marina Park task force was assembled, including Corbino, former commissioner Don Fletcher and four residents who sit on city boards. There was little community interest in public meetings to discuss improvements to the park.
"It was well-publicized. Nobody came," Fletcher said. "This is not something that just came up at the last minute."
Commissioner Keith Zayac said he wishes people had spoken up earlier. The time for input, he said, was when the project was in the conceptual design phase.
"At this point now, the plans are past 90 percent complete," Zayac said. "At some point you have to put pen to paper and put the shovel in the ground."
Still, some residents, such as artist Dino Kotopoulis say they have only heard about the plan in recent months.
When Kotopoulis heard about it, he submitted a proposal for a whimsical fountain with moving parts. He has said he would like to the city create an "art park" at the marina.
"There's so many things they can do to make it unique, and they're not," Kotopoulis said. "It's a standard fountain and observation tower and pier. The whole concept is off. I know they worked two or three years on it, but that doesn't mean it's good or workable."
The new park's central feature is a 14-foot-tall, 30-foot-wide fountain. Inside the fountain, a shoreline-themed sculpture by Valrico artist Steven Dickey with egrets perched on a branch is planned. The fountain would be surrounded by 80-foot-wide colored concrete plaza.
Commissioners say the fountain's natural look will allow it to blend into its surrounding.
"The sculpture in the middle is something I'm very excited about," said Commissioner Nadine Nickeson. "The type of sculpture that was selected will be wonderful whether or not the water is running."
But others say the fountain will detract, not enhance, what already is a lovely setting. Brickfield said he likes being able to drive by the park and look out at the water and marina.
"I guess we should rename it Water Fountain Park," Brickfield said.
"I think it's absurd," said former mayor Kent Runnells, whose law office is on Main Street. "Northwood Plaza, that's a nice place to put a fountain, there's brick and pavement. . . . You've got all the natural beauty in the world and what are you going to do, stick in a fountain?"
In addition to the fountain, the park will have a covered, 25-foot-high observation deck on the water's edge. Two picnic shelters will be replaced by three that will be around a Veteran's Memorial Plaza.
An entryway at South Boulevard and Bayshore will be landscaped and feature a 10-foot clock.
"Things were significantly scaled back," Zayac said. "To me, it's two elements (the fountain and observation deck) that are being put down there to enhance the park and not overwhelm it."
The plan has won praise in some corners.
"I think it's going to be pretty nice," said longtime resident Claude Rigsby, who is working with city officials on the war veterans memorial. "I think the fountain will be real nice."
Resident Bob Diaz said other than the large ramp leading to the observation tower, he has no problem with the park. He lives just south of it on Bayshore Boulevard.
"It should not be controversial," Diaz said. "This is one of those things where people are angry at first then five or six months from now the payoff comes. I don't think we're throwing money away."
But that's exactly what Borland and others think when they examine the bottom line for the park plan. "They're totally out of line spending that much money when they've got other things to deal with," Borland said. "I think they're self serving."
Money for the park will come from the city's savings and is not being taken from any other city projects, officials say. The city also has a $150,000 state grant to offset the cost.
The park will be on the City Commission agenda again Aug. 7 to deal with the legal issue Brickfield brought to the city's attention.
The city hired Wade Trim, one of four firms it works with, to create the final plans for the park at a cost of $108,000. But state law says cities first must seek proposals from engineering firms when a project's construction cost will exceed $500,000. The city never did that before hiring Wade Trim.
City Manager Steve Wylie said if the city made a mistake, it was unintentional. Still, he and City Attorney Alan Zimmet plan to recommend the commission cancel its contract with Wade Trim, then sign two new ones with the company. The new contracts will split the project into two parts that cost less than $500,000 each.
Site preparation: $66,196
Brick pavers: $19,170
Colored concrete $81,475
Observation platform $100,000
Fountain and sculpture $150,000
Park signs $1,500
Trash receptacles $9,000
Pier renovation $115,000
Picnic shelters $60,500
Street clock $15,000
© St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.