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Palm Beach Post (Florida)


Palm Beach Gardens officials are deciding how to spend $30 million the city will reap from the countywide penny sales tax increase, supporting an expanded youth baseball complex and new soccer fields as possible projects.

Sports parents packed Thursday night's City Council meeting, which lasted up to the 11:30 p.m. curfew due to a long agenda and was resumed Friday evening. They advocated for a tentative plan that calls for moving the soccer fields from Gardens Park on Burns Road to vacant land on 117th Court North.

The move would allow the city to expand the baseball fields at Gardens Park.

However, the property on 117th Court North across from Watson B. Duncan Middle and Timber Trace Elementary schools is owned by the county, which has been adamant that it's not for sale.

It's the same site that was designated for a park after Palm Beach County voters approved a referendum in 1999 that included $3.5 million for a North County park that would be accessible to everybody.

"All of the other municipalities up here want this to be a district park," said former Palm Beach County Commissioner Karen Marcus, who championed the referendum. "Everybody needs ball fields."

Representatives from municipalities across the north end of the county previously met and refined plans for the park, Marcus said before the meeting.

City Manager Ron Ferris acknowledged the plan as presented is totally dependent on getting property from the county through a sale, lease or some other agreement. If that fails, there are alternatives that would allow the city to accomplish its goal, he said.

"There's a long way for us to go in working with the county to get this to work," he said.

Palm Beach Gardens officials said they'll persist in trying to reach an agreement. If Palm Beach Gardens were to buy 20 acres from the county, for example, the sale would provide the county money for the park on another 40 acres, Mayor Marcie Tinsley said.

Damien Murray, president of the Palm Beach Gardens Predators youth soccer program, and its coaching director Adam Gee said the program is fast-growing. Space constraints have teams spread out all over the city, and they've had to decline opportunities to host tournaments. Regardless of what happens with the county, they need more field space, they said.

"We have come to the point where we are just totally maxed out on space. We have no room to grow at all," Murray said.

The City Council was opposed to the sales tax increase last year , but after county voters approved it , Palm Beach Gardens and other county municipalities will divide the revenue on a population basis.

A breakdown of all sales tax project costs shows:

$11.2 million for acquiring land at the proposed district park and converting it into a soccer complex

$2.5 million to expand the baseball complex

$7 million for renovating/expanding City Hall

$2 million for renovating the police department

$100,000 for renovating the fire station on Burns Road

$6.7 million for a new operations center that will house the public works and public services department

Palm Beach Gardens plans to secure the money for the projects up front by issuing a $30 million bond and then paying it back with the sales tax revenue.

Doing so would shorten the time frame for completing the projects and secure lower interest rates and construction costs, according to the city.

[email protected] Twitter: @Speters09

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January 8, 2017


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