With funding plans and design and pre-construction contracts approved, county staff moving ahead with first phase of 17th Street Regional Park

Improvements costing roughly $30 million expected to be completed in 2024

This graphic shows the overall master plan for the 17th Street Regional Park as of March 2021. The section outlined in red is Phase I. This graphic, with the legend, was part of the bid package for facets of the project, which the county advertised last year. Images courtesy Sarasota County

Thanks to a recent unanimous vote of the Sarasota County Commission, construction of the first phase of the 17th Street Regional Park is expected to be completed in 2024.

On April 12, the board members approved a $1,040,447 contract with the Kimley-Horn consulting firm, which has an office in Sarasota, to undertake the initial design and permitting of the project. Additionally, the commissioners approved an agreement with P.J. Hayes, which does business as Tandem Construction in Sarasota, to serve as the construction manager at risk for the pre-construction work at a cost of $150,000.

A construction manager at risk is responsible for overseeing a project and ensuring that the work is completed on time and on budget. Tandem is to refine the project cost estimate, analyze the phasing logistics of the initiative and develop a construction schedule, a county staff memo said. “An initial site work [gross maximum price] and Schematic design will be presented to the [commissioners] in September,” the memo added.

Finally, Chair Alan Maio’s motion called for approval of the funding plan for Phase I, at an estimated expense of $30 million.

Phase I would include athletic facilities and amenities on the eastern portion of the site, including an area that has been in use by the county’s Public Utilities Department, and the Miss Sarasota Softball complex (4770 17th St.). Four multi-purpose fields are to be added to the Miss Sarasota complex. Further, two soccer fields located along 17th Street will be redeveloped.

Commissioner Christian Ziegler called the plans “very exciting,” noting, “I spend probably five of my seven days [a week] at that park.” With a new puppy, he continued, half of that time is within the 17th Street Dog Park.

These are the Miss Sarasota Softball fields, as shown at night. Image courtesy Sarasota County

He also coaches Miss Sarasota Softball games, he said. (Ziegler has three daughters.) “You have generations of women and girls that have gone through that program,” he pointed out. “You see these hundreds — literally hundreds — of girls,” he added, who have gone through the Miss Sarasota program, from T-ball on up. “Their lives are impacted in a positive way [from their experiences],” Ziegler added, referencing conversations he had had with some of them.

Nicole Rissler, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department (PRNR), explained that, following direction the board members gave staff last year, a variety of sources of money for Phase I had been identified, to reduce the amount coming from the county’s General Fund. (Made up largely of property tax revenue, the General Fund is the board’s most flexible source of money for a variety of initiatives, along with the funding of county departments that bring in no revenue on their own.)

Rissler said $5.5 million would come out of North County Park Impact fee funds, and a $10-million general obligation bond has been planned.

This is the tentative funding plan for Phase I. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Additionally, she told the board, pending the successful sale of about 114 acres of county property located at the intersection of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Tuttle Avenue in Sarasota, as much as $4.5 million would be allocated out of those proceeds for the 17th Street Regional Park.

She reminded the commissioners that the county originally purchased the property at 2501 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way with the intent of creating a North County Sports Complex. Subsequently, the commissioners agreed to negotiate for its sale to a firm that plans an affordable housing community.

Another $10 million for the 17th Street Regional Park has been designated out of penny sales tax revenue, Rissler continued, if the county’s Surtax IV Program wins voter approval in November. The Surtax III Program ends on Dec. 31, 2024. Surtax IV would be in effect for 15 years.

Finally, Rissler noted, if the commissioners on April 26 approve the implementation of a sixth penny of the county’s Tourist Development Tax — or “bed tax” — starting on Oct. 1, the onset of the 2023 fiscal year, $10 million would go to the 17th Street Park out of the resulting revenue. (Staff has proposed that 70% of the proceeds from that extra penny be allocated to construction of public facilities.)

“When you first proposed this to us a long time ago,” Commissioner Nancy Detert told Rissler, the potential cost of Phases I and II was approximately $100 million, “which freaked me out …”

If Phase I is estimated at roughly $30 million, Detert asked, what is the latest projection for Phase II?

Rissler replied that the new estimate for the second phase is roughly $26 million. Part of the Surtax IV revenue would be allocated to that, as well, she said, if the penny sales tax program extension wins voter approval on the November General Election ballot.

Phase II would include the destination playground; a redeveloped dog park; new multi-purpose fields; pedestrian and vehicular connectivity to the eastern portion of the park, as well as to the City of Sarasota’s Bobby Jones Golf Club and related park property; and renovation and development of a championship field, according to Rissler’s comments to the board members and a slide she showed them.

These are the existing site conditions, as shown in a graphic included in the bid package advertised in 2021. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Commissioner Ziegler said he does not believe that the potential economic impact of having a tournament-ready facility at the 17th Street Regional Park “has been stressed enough.”

“I know there’ll be a heck of a lot of tournaments begging to get on that list” to use the facility, he added. Those events would bring children and parents to the community, he said, benefiting restaurants and hotels.

Eliciting chuckles from some of his colleagues, Ziegler also told Rissler, “Since you proved yourself with The Legacy Trail,” the commissioners also expect the new regional park to be completed in about half the time allotted to the undertaking.

In early March, the commissioners celebrated the opening of the final North Extension segment of The Legacy Trail, which ends near Payne Park in downtown Sarasota. During the event, Rissler pointed out to attendees that staff had completed what she continually described as the “race to completion” two years and nine months ahead of the original schedule.

“Our hope is that Phase II is not too far behind Phase I,” Rissler said of the plans for the 17th Street Regional Park.

Site modifications

This is the 2021 Strategic Plan. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During her April 12 presentation, Rissler noted that the construction of both a destination athletic field complex and a destination playground was a commission priority in the county’s 2021 Strategic Plan. In concert with that, she said, was focus on a North County Athletic Facilities Master Plan and sports tourism.

This year, she added, the 17th Street Regional Park is part of the county’s Strategic Plan.

Over the past months, Rissler continued, through collaboration with county administrative staff and individuals in other county departments, the PRNR team had identified extra acreage that can be incorporated into the new park. Among that property is 7 acres that has been in use by Public Utilities. Nonetheless, she said, monitoring wells on the park site will have to remain in place.

Further, the former site of county Fire Station 7 and about 5 acres that has been used for storage of surplus county inventory will be included in the master plan.

However, Rissler explained, The Florida Center for Early Childhood leases 13.3 acres of the southern part of the property, and the Sarasota County School Board has a bus depot on the site; those areas cannot be included in the master plan. (The Center’s address is 4620 17th St.)

“I think we should very quickly go see the School Board,” Chair Maio suggested, with the hope that the county might have a piece of property it could trade to the school district for the bus depot.

“Our staff has been working diligently with the staff at the School Board on the potential there,” County Administrator Jonathan Lewis responded, voicing optimism that such a transaction can be achieved.

More details about the plans

This aerial map, created earlier this year, shows part of the Bobby Jones Golf Club to the west of the regional park site. Image from Google Maps

In its 2021 advertisement for Request for Professional Services for the 17th Street Regional Park, county staff noted that the site contains about 114 acres, “with an additional 45 acres that may potentially be added.”

Bids were due on Nov. 2, 2021.

A second document in the package, encompassing 162 pages, contained the full North County Athletic Facilities Master Plan proposed by the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department. That document had been completed by the Atkins consulting firm, under county contract.

The Atkins document noted that the 17th Street Park site contains “a dog park, adult and youth softball fields, soccer fields, archery club area, hardwood hammocks, and park maintenance area. Two (2) existing reclaimed water treatment ponds are located at the Northeast corner of the project site.”

Additionally, Atkins pointed out, “A major drainage canal runs east to west, south of the site. The south end of the site is lower in elevation compared to the rest of the project site.”

Moreover, the report said, “Runoff erosion can be seen around the Miss Sarasota Softball fields.”

This February 2020 graphic shows the plans the City Commission approved for golf course restoration at Bobby Jones Golf Club and a related wetlands project. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

The document also explained that the Bobby Jones Golf Club “is located along the west side of the site. It is proposed that a connection be made between the golf course and 17th Street Park near the existing parking lot that serves the County adult softball fields.”

Further, the document noted, the county leases the property to The Florida Center for Early Childhood, which has two buildings and associated parking lots on the site.

“A county maintenance yard is located across Gun Club Road from the Miss Sarasota Softball complex,” the document added.