MARCO ISLAND — Many Marco residents may have thought they cast their final ballot of the year on Super Tuesday, however about 50 Marco residents cast their votes on another ballot Thursday evening — this one pertaining to plans for the new Veterans’ Community Park.
So far all plans for the park remain open except for its name and location. Veterans’ Community Park officially became the name of the park in a 2007 City Council meeting and the location was decided by a 2004 voter referendum to purchase the lot, then called the Glonn property, for $10 million and turn it into a future park.
According to the city's five-year capital improvement plan, there is a potential of spending $2 million to construct the park in 2010. This will be up to a voter referendum, which will be considered after the city completes the Veterans’ Community Park Master Plan, said Parks and Recreation Director Dana Souza.
Thursday’s meeting was the first opportunity for the general public to work with the consultants hired to develop the park’s master plan. The consulting firm, Kimley-Horn and Associates, was hired by council for $100,000 in October.
After a brainstorming session on ideas, residents cast their votes on their favorite elements for the park on large poster ballots hung on the back wall of the community room.
Preliminary counts indicated that arts, a band shell and flexibility were among the winning ideas for the park’s future program components.
Flexibility was a term many used to explain their desire for a park that allowed the community’s events, programs and priorities to evolve. The flexibility would allow the park to be passive at times and very active with large events at other times.
Another “ballot” hung on the wall to give residents an opportunity to vote on the elements of the veterans’ memorial they would most like to see. The top choice was to celebrate local veterans’ efforts through plaques and stones laid out throughout the park.
Many liked the idea while some said they would prefer one memorial in one location.
Lee Rubenstein, senior vice commander of the Marco VFW said $25,000 has been raised thus far for a future memorial on the site and that veterans are developing plans for its design.
“We need about 400 acres to accommodate all the ideas so far… It’s not a Disney park, it’s not a dog park, it’s Veterans’ (Community) Park,” Rubenstein said.
Residents were cautioned about getting too specific about the memorial at this stage.
“We don’t want the memorial design to get too far ahead of the design for the park,” Souza said.
Resident Keith Dameron, vice president of Orion Bank, summarized and echoed what many people said they believed were key elements of the park including its location on the water, creating a space for visual and performing arts and celebrating veterans through teaching about their contributions.
“When I think of a veterans park, I don’t always think of something sad… I’m a disabled Vietnam veteran. It doesn’t have to be a place you always have to bow your head but instead it could be a bit uplifting,” said Bill Duncan, a member of the Marco Island Taxpayers’ Association.
Challenges raised so far include whether there is adequate space for parking at large events, whether the park plan should include a parking structure and whether Elkcam Circle should be closed off.
The property near Winn-Dixie includes 12 lots bordered by West Elkcam Circle, Lambert Drive and the Rio Waterway south of Smokehouse Bay. Elkcam Circle divides four waterfront lots from the other eight lots.
There are varying opinions on whether to close Elkcam Circle in order for the park to not be divided.
“I’m not in favor of permanently closing Elkcam Circle, but I think it can be done as needed for large events… (Elkcam Circle) is the only bypass we have to Collier Boulevard,” said Jim Miller, project engineer with the city’s public works department.
Miller said a parking structure is necessary and believed grants might be available if it was used for storm surge protection.
“Closing the street could add a couple acres to the site… and you can still get through to Collier (Boulevard). You could go down Park Avenue,” said Sandi Johnson of the city’s beautification committee.
Jackie Koon, co-owner of CJ’s on the Bay, said she has a vested interest in the decision of whether to close off Elkcam Circle both with her business operations in the Esplanade and because she lives on Joy Circle near the park.
“I don’t like the idea of closing the circle because it doubles my commute,” she said and laughed a bit as her commute is less than one mile and would still be relatively short even if Elkcam is closed.
Duncan said he was against the idea of a parking garage.
“A parking garage is several million dollars. I’m in favor of bringing people in (from off island). That’s fine, but it’s a community park. I don’t want to see a commercial endeavor,” he said.
Steve Stefanides, chairman of Christmas Island Style, said the Christmas tree lighting Dec. 6 will serve as a “living experiment” of the parking sufficiency for the park as he anticipates crowds between 3,500 and 5,000 people at the event.
Thursday was Souza’s last meeting as the staff liaison on the project as he departs for a job in Greenville, S.C. City Planner Bryan Milk will serve as the staff liaison beginning Monday.
The committee has several meetings scheduled before their anticipated design plan completion of May 4. The general public has two more opportunities to share their ideas for the park. The next such public meeting is 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 29 in the Community Room, 51 Bald Eagle Drive.
The Veterans’ Park Master Plan Committee meets again at 6 p.m. Nov. 19 at Mackle Park.