While noting issues with aspects of a plan for a city bay front park, Port St. Joe city commissioners last week appointed a focus group to serve as a “sounding board” as the plans move forward.
The park plans, with a working title of BayPark but which incorporates much of George Core Park and the historic Maddox House, have been presented to the city commissioners and the Board of County Commissioners.
They are the product of the Port St. Joe Redevelopment Agency which secured a planning grant for the proposed park.
A public workshop was held on the planning document two weeks ago in the Port St. Joe commission meeting room.
The park is envisioned as the relocation spot for the Cape San Blas Lighthouse, which was awarded to the city by the Department of Interior last month.
“The focal point is getting the lighthouse moved,” said city manager Jim Anderson. “Regardless (of what is decided about the park) we have to figure out how we get the lighthouse moved.”
The park plans have come under criticism, during the prior workshop and BOCC meetings, for aspects that some see as putting too many structures along the water, offering the look of an amusement park in parts and being too grand in scale for the city to pull off.
“I’m looking at this (plan) as a good start,” said Port St. Joe Commissioner Rex Buzzett. “I want to use it. But some parts of it, I don’t think it will work.”
In order to broaden public input on the plans and to provide what Mayor Mel Magidson called a “sounding board” for the PSJRA board as it moves ahead – final plans and decisions are in the hands of city commissioners – the commission named a 14-member focus group.
The group includes Danny Raffield, Lois Byrd, Steve Newman, Trish Warriner, Jennifer Jenkins, Charlotte Pierce, Clay Smallwood, Jr., Barry Sellers, Bill Kennedy, Joanna Bryan, Dewey Blaylock, Lorinda Gingell, Ralph Rish and Christine McElroy.
There are representatives from the city and county commissions, the Tourist Development Council, Chamber of Commerce/Economic Development Council and interested stakeholders.
“I think this is a good mix of people to provide public input,” Buzzett said. “They need to know what we are asking them to do.”
Magidson said he envisioned the group as the entity that the PSJRA board presents items in the plans to gauge sentiment and gather input.
The PSJRA, he said, was tasked with coming up with the plan and the focus group was “to help refine plans to bring to us and roll out to the public,” Magidson said.
“We were elected to make policy,” Magidson continued. “That is our responsibility. (The focus group) is the sounding board for the PSJRA ideas. I think something will work down there that won’t harm the bay and be an asset to the entire county.
“The focus group is to give our (public) stakeholders a say. We are trying to make the process more inclusive.”
That, Commissioner Bill Kennedy said, was not in his view the current case. He criticized that the plans were so advanced and a workshop already held. He also stressed the care all should have concerning St. Joseph Bay.
“That bay is the golden goose, we should not have more structures there,” Kennedy said. “The only thing I like about (the plan) is the lighthouse.”
McElroy said she was also leery about more structures along the water and stressed the importance of being able to maintain current recreational options in the city while determining whether to add more to the plate.
Kennedy said he would have liked to have seen a scope of the project before planning documents were crafted and also criticized the lack of boat access at the park during a time the city is already examining ways to expand public boat access.
“I don’t mind them (the PSJRA) starting and planning provided we are going to lay eyes on it at some time,” Magidson said.
And Gail Alsobrook emphasized that “nothing has been done in the dark” during the planning process, the team for which included several local professionals. The PSJRA holds its meetings in the sunshine, the first workshop was advertised and the plans presented to the BOCC.
“The PSJRA board is the first focus group and nothing has been done in the dark,” she said. “A lot of people are already involved and I hope there will continue to be public involvement.”
Port St. Joe resident Tim Nelson said the city should have idea of what it wanted out of the park before plans were drawn up.
He said public input to the planners is essential and the park plans should be no be created in a vacuum.
“This should not be an isolated plan,” Nelson said. “To me the important thing is connecting (the business district on Reid Avenue) to the waterfront.
“Before they start, the planners need guidance.”
And that guidance, Buzzett said, should be coming at least initially from the focus group.
“We should have a formal focus group to work with the PSJRA and we should vote on them,” Buzzett said. “The focus group has to provide that guidance.”