A meeting open to the public on the topic of further development of Veterans Community Park was held at Mackle Park on April 19th. The original venue at Iberiabank was cancelled, and the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee (PRAC) felt it prudent to move the meeting to Mackle Park rather than cancel it. Gathering feedback from the public on this topic has been a top mission of PRAC.
Approximately 75 people attended. PRAC Chair Jerry Swiacki led the meeting, starting with a review of the purchase of the Glon property and its course on improvements thus far. A phased Veterans Community Park master plan was developed with the help of architect Kimley-Horn and several appointed committee members, encompassing a fair representation of different groups on the island. The committee met numerous times over a two-year period and held several public meetings. Jerry explained the comprehensive plans were approved by the Marco Island City Council, but the economy took a downturn and the plans were put aside, other than the Veterans Memorial, funded primarily through private donations.
“We want to proceed in a solid direction. Should we scrap the old plans? Do we modify them? Do we add amenities or do nothing?” asked Jerry. Many attending the meeting were respondents to a survey put out by the Marco Island Civic Association.
Concern over the amount of “greenspace”was voiced. Overwhelmingly, most felt the Farmer’s Market should continue. Parking is always an issue and proved to be one of the top concerns. The master plan called for 196 diagonal parking spaces along Park Avenue. Many were unhappy with the trailer housing restrooms, considering it an eyesore.
Jerry told the group the research done by PRAC so far brought up several considerations, a band shell and parking were top of the list. Second, trees, lighting and landscaping rated highly in the groups PRAC has spoken to. Jerry explained shade, through the use of pergolas, was part of the masterplan encircling the Veterans Memorial, and asked, “Is this something we want to pursue?”
Bob Bowe was a part of the Trees ‘R’ Cool committee which applied for and received a grant to plant many of the trees at Veterans Community Park. Bob spoke to his concern about greenspace, adequate parking and the restroom trailer. His final comment was that we need to be “proud to have this space as our city center.” Herb and Emily Savage each spoke to parking issues. Some felt the park should be kept passive with walking paths and benches, as well as plantings with native landscaping materials. It was suggested the “next generation” pay for improvements once the bond for the park was paid off in 2020.
PRAC member Michael Levine indicated a band shellwould only use 1-2% of the total park space. Ken Honecker referred to greenspace, wondering if those in favor of greenspace knew the plans of the Marco Island Nature Preserve and Bird Sanctuary. The Marco Eagle Sanctuary Foundation (the parent organization of the Marco Island Nature Preserve and Bird Sanctuary) is purchasing the 11-acre tract of land, previously known as Tract K, where the eagle nest is located. Their intention is to preserve the species of birds, animals and native flora. Additionally, the Marco Island Nature Preserve and Bird Sanctuary will provide access to visitors and school children for educational opportunities and techniques needed for future conservation.
“This would be a duplicate of greenspace,” Ken said. Jerry, also on the Marco Eagle Sanctuary Foundation, confirmed the intent to purchase the property and making it deed restricted. More comments were heard, some in favor of a band shell and some against. Eventually, a call for a show of hands was made. Approximately 16 were in favor of a band shell and 11 were not. The use of Tourist Development Taxes was questioned, adding a band shell could bring more tourists into the area.
The public is encouraged to attend monthly Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee meetings to speak on this, or any parks topic. Meetings are held in the Fay and Bedford Biles Community Room the third Tuesday of each month at 3 PM.