Breaking ground on a dream: Veterans’ Park improvements are ceremonially kicked off

Lance Shearer

It’s been a long time coming. Putting up some permanent structures at Veterans’ Community Park on Marco is an idea that has been kicked around for nearly two decades, but on the morning of Aug. 18, ceremonial shovelfuls of dirt were tossed to symbolically break ground for a major makeover of the open space near the city center.

Over 100 city officials, elected representatives, well-wishers and those who have been instrumental in shepherding the project through the years gathered under and around a tent set up next to the existing fountain at the park to hear words from city leaders and officially begin the construction phase. With a projected cost of around $11 million, that construction is slated to take about 11 months, with completion scheduled for July of 2022.

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Features of the park improvements include a modernistic bandshell with concert lawn for outdoor performances, a picnic and game area with giant chess board, bocce ball court, hammocks and outdoor ping pong tables, and a playground area with five pieces of playground equipment on 4,366 square feet of rubber playground surface, according to the fact sheet provided by contractor Manhattan Construction Co. There will be walkways, four overhead trellises – two with swings – walkways, new trees planted, and 40 different plant species.

The park, according to the fact sheet, will include 9,398 sq. ft. of synthetic turf (the size of two NBA basketball courts), 53.981 sq. ft. of mulch (10 percent bigger than an NFL football field), and 175,282 sq. ft. of natural turf (the area of two Manhattan city blocks).

While as portable toilets go, the facilities at Veterans’ Park have been the Cadillac of “put-Johns,” they are being replaced by a new, permanent 1,329 sq. ft. restroom building, augmented by two restrooms within the bandshell.

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Along with Mackle Park, which received a makeover in 2016-17, Veterans’ Community Park has functioned as a “village green” for Marco Island, hosting a host of community events even though it was little more than open space and a parking lot. Over the years, Christmas tree lighting, Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day commemorations, the Seafood Festival, and of course the weekly Farmers’ Market have taken place at Veterans’ Park, which will now be better able to house those events and provide a space befitting a community such as Marco.

Marco Island City Manager Mike McNees emceed the groundbreaking ceremony, with assistant to the city manager and veteran Dr. Casey Lucius leading the Pledge of Allegiance. McNees and City Council Chairman Jared Grifoni thanked a long list of those who had helped the project become reality, from when the city purchased what was known as the Glon property in 2004, through a series of proposals, halts, master plans, and back-and-forth over the years since.

Those singled out for special mention included Dr. Carlos Portu and members of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee, the Parks Foundation, and members of American Legion Post #404 and their president, Lee Rubenstein, who has been a tireless promoter and fundraiser for the park.

Members of the City Council were also recognized, with a special thank you to Councilor Erik Brechnitz, who was instrumental in raising funds for the park. The Community Foundation of Collier County was heralded for their gift of $50,000 for the planting of trees in the park.

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In his remarks, Grifoni also commended city finance director Gil Polanco, and noted the bond for purchase of the land was paid in full last year, “so at least one good thing happened in 2020.”

After remarks from Collier County Commissioner Rick LoCastro and John Reyhan, president of Manhattan Construction, McNees took the microphone back and orchestrated a ceremonial shutting down of the fountain and lowering of the (many) flags around the park. Then a dozen dignitaries grabbed a dozen shovels and scooped sand to officially begin the construction for Marco’s new village green.