Despite the number of holidays that have fallen on Concurrent column days from Halloween to Veterans Day and Thanksgiving, today is the most festive I have felt while writing. A big part of that is what is happening in city parks.
Crystal River hosted their Christmas parade and Inverness performed their tree lighting. Both events were last night and yet neither would have been the same if it weren’t for the way the community came together in their respective parks as well. Crystal River hosted faux ice skating while Inverness had a contest to decorate lamp posts all around the new Depot District.
The rowing team, which long time readers of the Concurrent will know I’m partial to shamelessly promoting whenever possible, won most festive in the lamp post contest with the decoration seen in the picture accompanying this story. While that success should be the focus of this piece, let’s instead expand on these nights to look at an even bigger takeaway: parks are important.
And the County Commission is going about securing one in Ozello all wrong. They are now at two swings and misses, and unless they can regroup, the plan which is otherwise a good one is in danger of striking out.
Here’s a brief overview of what’s happened so far. The heirs to a 3.6 acre piece of property at the tip of Ozello have expressed an interest in selling the property and the Commission wanted to buy it before it hit the market for the purposes of transforming it into a passive park. The Commission had it appraised with two different opinions which came back averaging $675,000.
The Commission voted to direct staff to negotiate a price with the owners for the purposes of having an agreed upon number that they could take to the state delegation in hopes for an appropriation out of the upcoming legislative session to avoid using any county funds.
Negotiations ended up being a charitable term for what happened. The county’s offer was rejected without a counter. Swing and a miss; strike one.
Commissioner Jeff Kinnard, who had been the public face of being in favor of the park from the beginning, brought a proposal to Tuesday’s meeting for a way to partially fund the project with sources not directly tied to the general fund. However, his proposal was voted down. Strike two.
It’s necessary here to distinguish between two types of parks. I’m not talking about passive parks and active parks, which is a term you’ll hear the Commission use, with passive meaning without recreational fields. By this definition, Pirates Cove would be a passive park but so would the Crystal River park. Yet they aren’t the same. A further distinction needs to be made.
The discerning line between these two parks should be if it is primarily for residents or visitors. In the case of Inverness’ Depot and Crystal River’s town square, both are draws for residents from the playground to the splash pad. Pirates Cove, however, would be for tourists as much as it would be for residents.
The idea of preserving it is for a piece of “Old Florida” which is what people will travel the long distance to see. Unlike the central locations of the city parks, Pirates Cove requires a commitment to get to. Part of the attraction is the scenic drive to reach the destination.
This tourist attraction element of the park means it should be primarily state funded. It’s inconceivable that the Commission makes the jump from wanting to get a firm price tag to take to the state during next month’s session to coming up with plans to fully fund it locally.
Commissioner Kinnard deferred from the responsibility of personally negotiating with the buyers because he didn’t feel it was within his job description to do so. He may have been right at the time, but now it’s too critical of a step to ignore.
This project is on the verge of falling through, but it should happen. The events at the park this weekend were evidence of parks’ importance. Usage needs to be considered when funding is discussed and this needs to be primarily a state-funded endeavor.
To abandon the idea of even waiting until the legislative session happens in favor of primarily funding it through county means is the absolute wrong approach. The Commission has one more strike to get back on track before public support is completely lost. I believe in them.