Some dreams were dashed Tuesday as Port St. Joe commissioners finally made a definitive decision and forwarded a park plan to the county.
By a 4-1 vote, Commissioner Scott Hoffman dissenting, the board supported a resolution which sends a plan for the 10th Street Park to the Board of County Commissioners.
The BOCC must still approve spending bed tax dollars on the project.
That plan heading to the county is less in scope than the original conceptual plan approved, unanimously, by city and county boards in January.
But is not much different from a plan before city commissioners for months, the board unable to find consensus in the face of a firestorm of protest from property owners adjacent to the park.
The plan approved by resolution Tuesday during a second-consecutive marathon meeting clocking in over three hours, includes six ball fields (there are five now), concession areas, additional parking and batting cages.
The resolution approved eliminated two elements: a splash pad and pickleball courts.
Several local pickleball players have been recently urging commissioners to place dedicated pickleball courts in Frank Pate Park, where a tennis court has lines demarking four pickleball courts.
Two Mexico Beach players urged the Tourist Development Council Tuesday morning to consider constructing courts at Veterans Memorial Park at Beacon Hill.
City commissioners were actually provided two resolutions during their regular bi-monthly meeting, with a second urging the adoption of a plan to build along Field of Dreams Dr. across from the Gulf/Franklin Center.
A project along Field of Dreams, on land donated to the city by the St. Joe Company, ostensibly for recreational purposes, was once a focus of a city-county interlocal agreement dating to 2010.
The concept was abandoned due to cost projections and lack of funding, but when the BOCC implemented a fifth penny for parks and recreation, the stated purpose, reflected in Tourist Development Council meeting minutes from 2014, was a sports complex.
A site was not identified, but the Field of Dreams proposal has been revived by opponents of any expansion of the 10th Street Park.
Particularly after the BOCC put the onus on the city to draft a plan, despite the Field of Dreams idea originating with the BOCC.
Hoffman began the discussion making the case for Field of Dreams, starting a debate that spanned some 80 minutes, putting the total meeting time consumed by the park debate since March beyond that of a typical workday.
“(This keeps) going on and on, wasting time and money,” said Ben Ashcraft.
Hoffman said his research showed transportation to a complex on Field of Dreams would not be a major issue in an age when most kids are driven to practice and games.
In addition, the site provided room to expand in the future, costs were not that far above estimates for 10th Street and construction at 10th Street would mean some fields would not be available during the life of the project.
And the project would not be nearly as divisive as the 10th Street plans have been, particularly once residents of the neighborhood became aware of the original conceptual plan earlier this year.
“The best choice is going to be the field of dreams,” Hoffman said. “We have to look at this as a long-range concept.”
But Commissioner David Ashbrook said the difference in costs was too significant.
The estimated cost of the 10th Street plan put before commissioners was just over $2 million, an estimate that would be reduced with the elimination of splash pad and pickleball courts.
The estimated cost at Field of Dreams topped $3.3 million.
“It is a dollars and cents issue,” Ashbrook said. “I would rather stay with what we know we can pay for.”
Both estimates, Hoffman countered, imply a phased-in approach to the project, so the dollar difference is “not a deal-breaker.”
The BOCC has indicated roughly $850,000 in bed tax dollars was available and the city is seeking a $900,000-plus grant to mitigate stormwater issues which, Commissioner Brett Lowry said, is effectively part of the ball park project.
Resident Claire Morris noted that commissioners approved a plan in January that would cost more than $2.5 million, but “somehow now the money (for Field of Dreams) is out of the question.”
As has been the case every time the park has been discussed in a public meeting, county or city, there was plenty of opposition from property owners adjacent to the existing park footprint.
Recent rains have exacerbated flooding issues that have been a concern from the outset, said one, and another secured 125 signatures on a petition expressing concerns about the park plans.
Those range from increased traffic and safety risks to loss of green space.
“You need to step up and do what is right,” said Robert Branch, an outspoken critic of the 10th Street plan.
And, as many have said for months, there is a feeling among those neighbors that they have been left out of a process that was rigged against them from the outset.
“We don’t want to fight,” Morris said, adding that folks in the neighborhood want to channel their passion and “do good.”
“These are our parks. We are citizens of Port St. Joe. You need to listen to us. We want to work for something positive. We can make it work. But we need to work together, not apart.”