Port St. Joe Mayor Mel Magidson said the opportunity to relocate the Cape San Blas Lighthouse to a new park on the city’s bayfront is a chance to create an “iconic” attraction for locals and visitors.
The Port St. Joe Redevelopment Agency is working to make that vision a reality.
At the last meetings for 2012 of the Port St. Joe City Commission and the Gulf County Board of Commissioners, Gail Alsobrook, executive director of the PSJRA, has provided initial designs and overview for a new BayPark: Gateway to the Bay.
The initial design is the creation of a team comprised of Erin Searcy, Gena Johnson, George Coon, Eric Davidson, Mark Hawley and Steve Butler, largely local professionals working with The Associates LLC out of Panama City, which was the contractor for the planning document under a grant secured by the PSJRA.
“They are all local people and very talented,” Alsobrook said. “We have a lot of talent in this community. This has been a labor love for these people.”
The preliminary plan – the first public workshop on the plan will be held at 5 p.m. ET on Jan. 15, just prior to the Port St. Joe City Commission’s first meeting of 2013 – has several objectives, Alsobrook said.
One is to connect the community to St. Joseph Bay and in turn the Port St. Joe downtown to the BayPark.
Another is to redevelop the “dead beach” area adjacent to the Port St. Joe Marina and the relocation of the Cape San Blas Lighthouse to BayPark.
The city and county both applied to receive the lighthouse for relocation as the threat of erosion at the current site, on U.S. Air Force property. The city was awarded the lighthouse last week (see related story A1).
The tentative plan for BayPark is broken into three major components: a promenade, the lighthouse and a coastal ecological center.
The promenade would represent the redevelopment of the industrial area adjacent to the Port St. Joe Marina but outside of the St. Joseph Bay Aquatic Preserve.
The promenade would provide a welcoming entrance to the park and along the bayfront would provide a host of recreational opportunities for folks of all ages, Alsobrook said.
That includes a replica sailing ship with hand-pumped water cannon and water slide.
There would also be spots for quiet reflection or reading or sunning and there would also be an area with a fire pit suitable for hosting small groups.
The promenade would also provide additional seating for viewing of events held on the stage at what is now George Core Park and would offer interactive activities for children pertaining to the marine culture of the area.
“The promenade would be a welcoming place and would also provide for simple enjoyment of the BayPark coastal edge,” Alsobrook said.
Also along the coastline would be Discovery Island, a natural and ecologically friendly spot for folks to hike or simply enjoy the water.
On the back side of the park, close to what is now Baltzell Avenue, the BayPark would offer a Coastal Ecology Resource Center and community center.
“This would be created in a phased approach to meet the needs of the region,” Alsobrook said.
There would be larger meeting/event space and the center would celebrate the natural resources of the area.
Alsobrook said she envisions something along the lines of the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve (ANERR) in Eastpoint in Franklin County.
There is also the hope that the BayPark would offer something of a turtle rescue preserve, something Gulf World in Panama City Beach has long desired as many of its sea turtle rescues in recent years have occurred in Gulf County and St. Joseph Bay.
The final component would center on history of the area, with the centerpiece the Cape San Blas Lighthouse and ancillary buildings, including two keepers’ quarters and an oil shed.
This area would be situated behind the promenade and west of the Ecology Center.
It would include upgrades and renovations to the historic Maddox House along the waterfront and at the far end, the Tourist Development Welcome Center would provide one bookend to the park, the other being the Chamber of Commerce Living Color building.
“The goal would be consolidating the story of the community and the bay by centralizing educational, cultural and historic programs,” Alsobrook said. “We want to tell the bay story by centralizing regional assets.”
She envisioned, among many potential components of the area, an interactive exhibit in which the oral histories of long-time residents could be recorded and listened to in perpetuity.
“If you notice, the BayPark would be right at the gateway to the bay, centrally located on this side of the bay providing an opening to the entire bay,” Alsobrook said.
Alsobrook also expressed confidence that the PSJRA could find private sector partners and grants to transform the BayPark plan from paper to reality.
“I have no doubt,” she said.