Wild Spaces & Public Places lags on recreation construction


Smokey Bear Park on Northeast 15th Street was the first project to be funded by the Wild Spaces & Public Places half-cent sales tax.

DOUG FINGER/THE GAINESVILLE SUN
Published: Sunday, January 3, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 2, 2010 at 10:34 p.m.

Halfway through the two-year life of the Wild Spaces & Public Places sales tax, the money generated has paid for several million dollars' worth of land acquisitions but to date only a few recreation construction projects.

So far, the Alachua County Forever land conservation program has made five land conservation purchases with money from the half-cent sales tax, spending more than $6.3 million on approximately 900 combined acres that will buffer existing conservation areas.

But recreation construction projects have not moved along as quickly.

"Alachua County Forever benefited from the sales tax because now is a good time to buy property," County Manager Randall Reid said. "Construction takes a little longer."

But county and city officials say a number of park construction projects should get going within the next several months.

Reid said ground could be broken during January on the county's major recreation construction project funded by the tax - an approximately $2 million recreation center with a meeting room and bathrooms at Kanapaha Park, 7400 S.W. 41st Place.

The city has 23 recreation construction projects totaling $9.76 million slated for funding with the tax revenue. City commissioners approved the final list of projects in September.

So far, less than $1 million worth of projects are either completed or under way.

Renovations at the historic Thomas Center included new tile, painting and new carpeting in the Long Gallery. At the Westside Park pool, the tax has paid for locker room renovations and a new pool deck. In northeast Gainesville, a new heating system is being installed in the pool at Citizens Park, and the locker room has been renovated.

Aleta Cozart, Gainesville's purchasing manager and the project manager for the city's Wild Spaces & Public Places projects, said the city is close to signing contracts with firms for the design of several projects that could be under construction during the first half of 2010.

Cozart said these projects include the skate park planned at Possum Creek Park, renovation of the Rosa B. Williams Center and a trail system and infrastructure improvements at Northeast Park.

"All these things are going to hit the ground here after the first of the year," Cozart said.

The major city project - construction of a $5 million Senior Center at Northeast Park, which will receive $1.5 million in Wild Places & Public Spaces funding - should soon have a signed contract with a design/build firm, Gainesville spokesman Bob Woods said.

The City Commission's decision in September to rank Sarasota-based W.G. Mills as the top firm on that project irked some who pushed for a local firm.

For the design of most of the recreation projects, the city will choose from a list of 14 firms, Cozart said. She said nine of these firms are local and that four of those are in the city's small-business program. She said the firms based out of town hire local subcontractors, such as landscape architects.

The city's share of revenue from the sales tax is projected to be $12.2 million, which because of the economic downturn is below the $14.2 million initially expected. Besides recreation development, the city also has $2.44 million going toward land acquisition.

So far, the lone land purchase the city has made is the acquisition of Smokey Bear Park from the state for $469,000. Michelle Park, assistant director of the city's Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department, said negotiations are ongoing on the potential acquisition of a few other properties, which she declined to identify. This Thursday, city commissioners will be asked to add acres adjacent to the Hogtown Creek Headwaters Nature Park to the city's priority list of conservation lands to acquire.

Because the tax will not generate as much money as first expected, Park said the city has removed improvements to the boardwalks at Loblolly Woods Nature Park and Alfred A. Ring Park from the list of projects that would be funded, partly because they were not high priorities.

Park said the tax revenue will make some long-discussed projects a reality, including the construction of a track, soccer field, lighted basketball courts and restrooms at Fred Cone Park in east Gainesville.

Initially expected to bring in approximately $39 million during its two-year life, the voter-approved Wild Spaces & Public Places half-cent tax now is projected to generate a little more than $30 million.

Reid said officials from several local governments have started discussions on the possibility of asking voters to approve a dedicated one-cent sales tax for infrastructure projects - such as roads and the construction of public buildings - after the Wild Spaces & Public Spaces tax sunsets.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments are currently unavailable on this article

▲ Return to Top