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Naples Daily News (Florida)
It will be two more years before the long-awaited Big Corkscrew Island Regional Park opens to the public, according to a timeline approved Tuesday by Collier County commissioners.
The planned 150-acre park in Golden Gate Estates near Palmetto Ridge High School sat in planning limbo for nearly a decade before efforts to build it were revived in 2014. The county is still negotiating with Q Grady Minor, the firm that will design the park, over cost and the scope of the project.
A contract with the firm should be ready to be approved by commissioners in January, said Barry Williams, parks and recreation director.
Once the contract is approved, final design of what will be one of the county's largest parks will begin.
Plans include several sports fields, walking trails, a playground, a community center, swimming pools, a softball/baseball complex, and tennis, basketball and pickleball courts. Three public meetings will be held before the design is selected to make sure residents' priorities match the plans, Williams said.
Design is expected to take nearly a year, and construction is scheduled to begin in early 2018.
"There is pent up demand for this," Williams said. "We have a lot of families in the area that need this park."
Commissioners still need to decide how they're going to pay for it.
The park will cost $31 million, according to county estimates. Commissioners have already set aside $14 million, and, depending on how much money in impact fees the county collects from new homes and business, plan to be able to spend $4 million a year on the project.
That would give the county $18 million cash on hand when construction is set to begin.
Commissioners will need to decide if they want to borrow the remainder and complete the project or split the work into phases, Williams said.
That decision will fall to the next board of commissioners, which will be sworn in later this month.
Tuesday marked the final meeting for Commissioners Tim Nance, Georgia Hiller and Tom Henning. They will be replaced by Burt Saunders, a former state representative and state senator; Andy Solis, a North Naples lawyer; and Bill McDaniel, owner of a Golden Gate Estates excavation company.
Nance, who represents the Golden Gate Estates area, said seeing the park project move forward for the area was one of the highlights of his four-year term.
"The area has 20 percent of citizens and 30 percent of the kids," Nance said. "This park is something that has been needed for a very long time. To have a timeline that shoots to have the park open in 2019, I'm hopeful. I'm hopeful that the newly constituted board will find a way to fully fund this project and get it checked off the list."
In other business, commissioners unanimously voted to create a new position to help bolster its growing sports tourism team as the county's tourism office tries to tap into a burgeoning amateur sports market. Hosting sports tournaments has been an unexpected but increasingly strong economic driver for the county, said Jack Wert, tourism director.
"It really started when we built North Collier Regional Park," Wert said. "That gave us a first-class sports facility, and we were able to bring in soccer tournaments, and then lacrosse and softball. Then we expanded into pickleball and Pro Watercross. Once you get this reputation for hosting national championship events, it really snowballs."
The county hosted 73 national and regional tournaments and events over the last year, Wert said.
The new position will help organize annual tournaments, such as the U.S. Open Pickleball Championships and the Pro Watercross World Championship, while working to lure more events.
The new hire will bring the number of employees dedicated full-time to sports tourism to three, while freeing other tourism employees to focus on other areas, Wert said.
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