GUEST EDITORIAL: A Park is a Park is a Park?

tony yaniz headThere have been many delays and much confusion over the Truman Waterfront property “gift” our city received from the Navy nearly fourteen years ago. Our citizens were very excited that we were going to have a Park with much needed green space. However, we still don’t have much in the way of progress.

A Park is defined by the dictionary as:

Park noun \ˈpärk\ : a piece of public land in or near a city that is kept free of houses and other buildings and can be used for pleasure and exercise: a large area of public land kept in its natural state to protect plants and animals

Sounds simple right?  Not so fast. Apparently, the Navy set certain parameters as to what this park would be. But by the same token, the original conveyance included a marina; that would have provided the economic engine to build and maintain this entity. Currently, a similar facility caters to the big yachts at the Westin Marina who pay thousands of dollars per day to use their space.  I believe the original numbers as proposed by Spottswood & Meisel group to build the Truman Waterfront Park and Marina were roughly nine million for the uplands and same amount for the water side. Estimated maintenance costs for the park are two million plus a year.  A portion of our citizens were opposed to the marina option. We couldn’t come to an understanding and time kept marching forward. Then the Navy decided they wanted the basin and the proposed marina site back.  Once again, he who hesitates is lost!  Remember the Truman Annex opportunity?

The economic engine is gone. Yet we are still fiddling over what to build. What will not be feasible is the current Southernmost Disney World proposal, a project estimated at $ 40-50 Million with a multi-million dollar yearly maintenance!  Today we are at a junction where basically not much has been accomplished on a park with much needed green space. Last year the Commission restored a tiny chunk of land at the entrance to the property which gets used daily!  Here’s a suggestion: Why don’t we create a park?  You know, plants, trees, bike paths, maybe an athletic field or two, a dog-park, barbeque grills, coconut trees, picnic tables, Tiki huts?

Yes, we have agonized over the conceptual plan.  And yes, there are elements that can still be included for certain: the infrastructure which will allow for further development years down the road, and the landscaping bike paths, etc. on the north side of the property.  But we still have time before we approve the development plan to make some logical changes.

Let’s look at what is going to be proposed to the Commission for the South side and viable alternatives:

  • AMPHITHEATRE: Four million dollars (plus?). Everything I hear is that municipal amphitheaters do not break even, much less make a profit! TWFAC pays no rent, no utilities and basically no overhead and yet their profit last year was a little over one thousand dollars. Waterfront Theatre exists only because of art patrons who love theatre and generously give continually to keep this venue alive. Here’s an alternate plan: Let’s borrow a page from the Park in Marathon. The small band shell costs a fraction—estimated half a million dollars– and it does not encumber the green space. Save one and a half million even if the TDC won’t still support half the cost.
  • COMMUNTY CENTER:  Projected cost is eighteen million dollars. One can argue the need for such a facility. But why don’t we renovate the present PAL gym and horse stable for roughly three million dollars and save fifteen million?
  • MULTI-USE ATHLETIC FIELD. No problem with the concept. Here is where the TDC should throw us a bone as the Soccer tournaments alone will bring many heads to put in beds. Only issue is that under the current plan we’d bulldoze the PAL building. So instead we move the location of the proposed amphitheater site and move the regulation field there.  By the way, renovating the PAL/Horse Stables facility to the tune of three-four million dollars in lieu of the eighteen million dollar community center is just logical!
  • PRACTICE FIELDS. This property falls under the BVRAC purview. Although the ultimate goal is to generate income for the Bahama Village TIF, it is highly unlikely that a project such as affordable housing could break ground in less than four to five years. Let’s invest one hundred and seventy thousand dollars—a pittance in comparison to the proposed millions of dollars this project will cost—into renovating these fields now. Our citizens will be able to have use of these facilities in ninety days. Years down the road, if and when a best-and-highest use comes along, we can change our objective yet still have got our money’s worth.

On a separate note, I viewed a version of the proposed park from 2010 where there were going to be four multiuse-use athletic fields, which of course doubles as green space. What happened?  We could certainly  even forego the amphitheater in any version (reads, how do you keep the chronic homeless from hanging out there like they do at the beach pavilions on Higgs Beach!)

In summary…let’s build a park!  That’s what the people want! This grandiose Disney-World-Facility vision sounds great but the reality is that we don’t have the wherewithal to make it a reality and people are just plumb tired of waiting!

While I am on the soapbox, if we cannot make a deal with the Navy for a profitable use of the Outer Mole, then let’s shake hands, walk away from the table and call it a day. No corporate entity would agree to the terms and conditions the Navy has put forth. That’s their prerogative. But our mission is to do what is in best interest of our community and losing money is not!

Let’s just build a park!