The Safety Harbor City Commission on Monday took steps necessary to initiate work on the city’s waterfront park, approving a conceptual design and agreeing to utilize nearly $2 million in funds to start work on Phase 1 of the project.
The design the commissioners ultimately agreed on, Concept E, features a 2,500-linear-foot pedestrian trail, a 16-space parking lot on the north end of the park, a pedestrian boardwalk that will cross over Mullet Creek, plus some bike racks, benches and a few other amenities.
Despite the relative simplicity of the concept, and the fact that $2.25 million had been earmarked for work on the first phase of the park, it took the commission more than an hour of discussion to agree upon the design.
“My feelings are it would be nice to get it done tomorrow, but my fear is this – to borrow $2.25 million to build everything on the wish list, I’m having a difficult time with it,” Mayor Andy Steingold said when the agenda item came up.
“I would just like to see us, every year, begin to work on improving this park rather than try to tackle it with a loan right off the front.”
The loan the mayor was referring to is not a traditional loan; according to officials, the city would borrow from other designated funds, including capitol improvement project money and CRA funds, in order to get the park project started, and then pay the accounts back over a period of time.
But despite the mayor’s desire to start slowly by spending about $1 million to do initial site grading and prep work, some commissioners weren’t on board with the idea.
The prospect of losing grant money city staff had won for the park, plus the fact that the city purchased the land more than two years ago and had yet to begin to improve the 13-acre waterfront greenspace, ultimately led to the plan being approved.
“I know how difficult it is to win grants,” Vice Mayor Cliff Merz said. “Getting those grants and then turning around and giving the money back, I would have a hard time with that.”
“None of this is being done overnight,” Commissioner Rick Blake said in response to the mayor’s request not to rush into the project. “We’ve stepped back dramatically, in comparison to what the residents have already voted on, after a year of meetings.”
Commissioner Carlos Diaz concurred.
“These discussions on this waterfront property date back to April 2nd of 2012, so I don’t think the city has really been rushing into anything,” he said. “We’ve analyzed and analyzed and analyzed and we’re still here trying to analyze and redo what other commissions have already looked at. It’s a little bit frustrating.”
“As far as borrowing money, we’re actually taking money out of the general funds,” he added. “Those are funds that the citizens of Safety Harbor have paid in…and those funds will be paid back over six or seven years. I think this is a good time to go for the waterfront.”
Those comments led to the commission voting on each aspect of the plan, ultimately approving the entire Concept E, with few changes, notably the exclusion of a seawall on the south end of the park and the relocation of a stormwater drain.
According to city officials, staff is currently working on finalizing the plans for Phase 1.
The tentative timeline is to begin site work next spring, with all the work to be completed sometime near the end of 2015.
Editor’s Note: Commissioner Rick Blake owns the parent company of Safety Harbor Connect.com