To set the scene in ball terms, plans to, pick one, renovate, improve or expand the ball parks on 10th Street in Port St. Joe can’t get out of the batter’s box.
Port St. Joe commissioners on Tuesday presented the latest conceptual plan, swing number six for those keeping score, which members of the public who spoke pretty uniformly deemed, staying with the ball theme, just a bit outside.
A significant factor in the skeptical feedback was that this latest version was being seen for the first time by commissioners and the public.
And it was most decidedly not the plan posted on the city’s website or contained within the meeting agenda packet.
Commissioner Rex Buzzett said the changes had been made that morning and were based on input received on version number five, saying that he was told additional elements were needed.
More on that in a moment.
But the changes, to residents speaking Tuesday, returned the conceptual plans to something very close to the original swing, which had raised the ire of many residents and compelled a joint workshop with the county in April.
To several speaking, residents didn’t see much advancement for the better in version number six, which reflected an unwanted expansion of the park footprint.
“It is still a sports complex in a residential neighborhood,” said resident Claire Morris. “It just doesn’t belong here.
“The county wanted it. What about the citizens?”
There is a balancing act with the “conceptual” plans.
While county commissioners indicated during the joint workshop that the final plans were up to the city, it is a city park, after all, the caveat is that proposed renovations or expansion would be funded with county bed tax dollars.
The Board of County Commissioners last summer unanimously supported using so-called fifth-penny bed tax revenue collected, already for nearly two years at that point, and pledged to parks and recreation on the 10th Street Park.
That bed tax money comes with specific language and strings requiring expenditures be within the framework of a county ordinance and state statute governing and implementing the additional penny.
Hence, there is an undercurrent of not entirely compatible aims of improving ball fields that have been played on for seven decades and the requirement to fold a tourist-development focus into any park plans.
And the plan has become bogged down since March as swings are made to provide a “concept” of proposed renovations to assess what elements are needed.
Only at that point could a master plan for construction and budget be finalized.
But the concept, and what and how many elements are required, remains the sticking point since release of the first conceptual plan.
“If we don’t satisfy the (Tourist Development Council) regulations we won’t have anything,” Buzzett said.
“We are not going to make everybody happy … There is going to have to be some compromise.”
Residents surrounding the park, as they have since March, continued to question the viability of the plans, conceptual or not.
There would be the loss of trees along an area adjacent to a well-used Port St. City Trail, concerns over stormwater and flooding with version six calling for piping along section of the ditch that runs along the park complex.
Additionally, traffic and light issues that already exist are certain to be exacerbated, they said.
“This is not in your backyards, it is in our backyards,” said resident Elaine Rogers.
The feedback was not all negative, however, as Steve Newman spoke as “coach, sponsor, parent.”
Newman noted that 225 youngsters played softball, baseball and T-ball on the 10th Street parks this year and the plan presented Tuesday represented the net addition of just one field.
(The complex currently has five fields; the conceptual plan unveiled Tuesday would include six fields, three for softball, three for baseball, along with pickle ball courts).
He also noted the introduction and honoring of the state champion Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School baseball team to begin the meeting, venturing that every one of those players likely started on 10th Street.
And several commissioners played on those same fields, active 70 years.
“We are jammed … as it is,” Newman said. “We will demand more for our kids.
“We owe it to our kids to provide adequate services.”
Commissioners tabled consideration of the newest plans, which will be posted on the city’s website.
Morris urged commissioners to seek citizen input, saying together a suitable plan for all could be crafted.
Commissioners approved moving ahead with an extension of the Port St. Joe Redevelopment Agency.
The BOCC, during the joint workshop and in a follow-up letter, communicated it had no interest in supporting the extension and the city was on its own.
City attorney Adam Albritton said he and PSJRA executive director Bill Kennedy and discussed plans for moving forward, which Kennedy said would likely be a three to four month process.
There will be several future steps, including specific finding justifying the extension and public hearings.
“Some of the most immediate differences you can see in town have been due to the PSJRA,” said Commissioner David Ashbrook. “Reid Ave. has never looked better.”
Ashbrook said a goal of the extension should to be to expand the downtown footprint, bringing more business and activity to Williams.
Buzzett said an extension would also allow the neighborhood North Port St. Joe a chance to come back and begin to benefit from tax increment financing that comes with the CRA.
The CRA is funded with a percentage of any increase in property values within the boundaries.
The city, near the end of the 30-year term of the CRA, will seek an additional 30 years.
The original PSJRA boundaries encompass the overwhelming share of downtown, between First and Fifth Streets and extending east nearly to Long Ave.
Roughly a decade ago, North Port St. Joe was included an expanded boundaries.