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Palm Beach Post (Florida)
New athletic fields, a playground and hiking trails could open in Palm Beach Gardens by next year after county officials agreed to a plan for a park's development.
Palm Beach County Commissioners recently signed off on a plan for the first phase of a North County District Park on about 50 of the 80 acres it owns on 117th Court North, which Palm Beach Gardens will build, operate and maintain.
Commissioners directed staff to negotiate an agreement for the portion of the park across from the Palm Beach Gardens Tennis Center and next to I-95. The Toronto Blue Jays and Houston Astros wanted to build a spring training stadium on the future parkland until the Palm Beach Gardens City Council shut down the plans in 2014.
Commissioner Hal Valeche said the new park will meet needs for field space in his northern Palm Beach County district. The county is eager to have a park on the property, but it doesn't have the money to create one on its own, he said.
"I'm very encouraged that we were able to, in concept, agree," Valeche said. "We've been waiting quite awhile to be able to put something on that piece of land, and now it's going to come to fruition."
The rest of the 80-acre park will be developed by the county when it has the money to do so, Valeche said. The $5 million in sales-tax money designated for the park isn't enough to complete it, he and Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Director Eric Call said.
The county's sales-tax money for the second phase of the park won't be available for years, Call said.
Palm Beach Gardens will use up to $11.2 million to pay for the first phase of the park. The soccer complex will move to the site from Gardens Park on Burns Road, which will allow the city to expand the baseball complex near City Hall for another $2.5 million.
The section developed by Palm Beach Gardens will have five multi-purpose fields mostly for soccer, a playground, parking, a restroom, retention pond and walking trails, city spokeswoman Candice Temple said. It could be finished by fall 2018, she said.
Soccer, which is operated by the Palm Beach Gardens Youth Athletic Association, will have more space and room for growth at the new park, Temple said. The sport runs about 10 months out of the year, she said.
The money for the first phase of the park and the baseball expansion will come from a bond the city issued, which it plans to pay back with its share of money generated by the penny sales tax increase.
The county Parks and Recreation Department supported an agreement with Palm Beach Gardens under the condition that no preference for programs is given based on residency.
The fields should be available for Palm Beach County Sports Commission events, and a Park Advisory Committee of representatives from all areas of northern Palm Beach County should be established, the department said.
Officials from eight municipalities, the Palm Beach North Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches wrote letters to the county in favor of the park plan.
Palm Beach Gardens had expressed interest in buying land outright and developing it, but Valeche said it wasn't for sale, in whole or in part. The county bought the land from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for $3.5 million after county voters in 1999 approved a $24.5 million bond referendum for recreation projects, including the district park.
The County Commission's decision to give its staff the "green light" to enter into an agreement with Palm Beach Gardens is "kind of the launch party," for the park, Palm Beach Gardens Councilman Carl Woods said.
"We're excited to move forward on that as quickly as possible," Woods said. "Let's stop talking and get the park built."
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