NAPLES — Naples City Council members tentatively agreed Tuesday to allocate land for Central Bark — a proposed off-leash dog park — but they refused for now to provide any additional money needed for the construction or maintenance of the park.
The proposed site for Central Bark is on the city’s campus on Riverside Circle, at the intersection of Central Avenue and Goodlette-Frank Road. The estimated total price tag of building the park is $205,200.
“I think they reached the right decision,” said William Dempsey, a Naples attorney who gave a presentation about the park to council members. “I don’t think we are going to have a great deal of difficulty coming up with enough private funds to make this project (happen). I think there is enough interest in the private sector in a community like Naples for private funding to make up the difference between what’s necessary to get the park up and running and what’s available on the public side.”
Dempsey does not currently own a dog but he plans on buying a dog next year and using the park.
“I don’t have a crystal ball. I can’t guarantee how much we’ll get in terms of private funding, but my expectation, and I think it’s a reasonable expectation, is that the private sector will be able to pick up the tab,” he said.
Dempsey also said that no private money had been raised yet for the dog park because the proponents behind the park wanted to get the council’s blessing before they dove into fundraising efforts.
George Paul, co-owner of the Wigglebutt Inn — a dog-friendly hotel located on Jaeger Road in Naples — was thrilled with the council’s decision.
“I think it’s a huge benefit for the dogs and the dog owners of Naples,” Paul said. “I think the location’s awesome. Can you imagine walking the dog in the green space and then playing in the park?”
Paul was not disappointed that the council members did not agree to provide any additional funding beyond the land.
“Just getting the land was huge,” he said.
Teresa Heitmann was the only council member who opposed the allocation of that portion of the city’s land for a dog park because she was concerned about the city’s future needs for that land.
“I just want to make sure that we don’t give away property and then have to make a decision to outsource when we do not have the facilities we need or the land we need,” said Heitmann, who owns three dogs. “When you outsource it and then you give your land away, you can’t go back.”
Heitmann agreed with the other council members’ decision to not commit any financial support for the park.
“I think it could be supported through user fees and through private donations and that it doesn’t have to be a burden on the annual budget,” Heitmann said.
Many council members supported the idea of charging an annual Central Bark membership fee of $125 per year, per dog.
This would make Central Bark the only members-only dog park in Collier County. Canine Cove at Mackle Park on Marco Island accepts donations to help with the maintenance of the park and Rover Run at Veterans Community Park in North Naples is free.
“We think it’s a good idea for the park to have some control over the types of animals that are using the park,” Dempsey said of the reasoning behind the annual fee. “You want to make sure that the dogs that are using the park are spayed or neutered and have gotten all their shots.”
According to the group’s plan, a dog’s permit to use the park can be revoked if he or she does not play nicely with others.
The annual fee would also provide operational funding for annual operations and maintenance fees, which are estimated to cost about $22,000. Maintenance and operations fees will take care of the costs incurred from trash removal, refreshing mulch and mowing the grass.
Sharon Kenny, president of the Aqualane Shores neighborhood association, proposed the idea of selling lifetime memberships to Central Bark, which would help pay for some of the construction fees for the park.
“I would be willing to pay $1,000 tomorrow for a lifetime membership,” Kenny said. “You could get $100,000 right there.”
Councilwoman Margaret “Dee” Sulick, who believes that the dog park should be privately funded just like Canine Cove on Marco Island, expressed her concerns about the dog park being used primarily by Collier County residents instead of just Naples residents.
Former Councilwoman Penny Taylor first raised the issue of a city dog park in June after residents spoke to her about the need for an off-leash dog park.
Advocates for the dog park said the immediate need arose over the summer, after a small group of residents were asked to leave Gulfview Middle School property, where they had been letting their dogs run free.
- - -
E-mail Sarah Donovan at firstname.lastname@example.org