Neighbors of Winston Park gather to watch the official ribbon cutting re-opening of the park.
BELLEAIR – It was a moment that Parks and Recreation Director Eric Wahlbeck had been waiting for. The official reopening of Winston Park marked the beginning of a community-wide park enhancement, and for Wahlbeck, it was a dream come true.
The dream came true on May 1 with the official ceremony and ribbon cutting.
“This is the first one under my tenure,” he said. “It is a big step for the town to invest money in the parks; it is something they haven’t done in a very long time.”
There are more than 20 designated parks in Belleair, 14 of which are useable, of a size to be even called a park; the others are just green space where two roads intersect. The long-range plan calls for all 14 parks to be extensively remade. Winston Park, in the Eagle’s Nest neighborhood, was first because it coincided with extensive roadwork in the area. Wahlbeck said the goal of the work was to get more people into the park.
“The budget was $35,000,” he said. “The park was lacking a pathway, we installed that. We added a number of benches, trash cans, a doggie station and a boardwalk along the water so people can fish or do whatever.”
Parks Supervisor Ricky Allison added that a number of palm trees were removed opening the park to more open, green space. Wahlbeck said that was important.
“People told us they wanted more open space,” he said. “Now they can throw a ball or a Frisbee and let their dogs run in the open space. We also re-sodded and added new plants.”
The open space is important for Lisa Veltman, one of many neighbors who came for the official opening of the park.
“It is nice to have the sidewalk through the park for walking my dog,” she said. “It is good for families with children and now we have access to the seawall. I also like the waste station for the dogs and the benches. I call it Easter everyday here now, it was a mess.”
Resident Dave Yoder agreed with Veltman.
“I love it, they did a great job,” he said. “They removed all those old palms and they brought the park back. It is beautiful and I noticed this morning people out walking their dogs here. You can bet people will use it now.”
Maria Castro and her husband Pedro were sitting on one of the new park benches enjoying the event. They, too, were pleased with what they were seeing.
“I walk by here every day,” she said. “A couple of weeks ago it was a mess and this morning it was all done. I said, ‘Wow; I’ll definitely use this park now.’”
Prior to the remake, Winston Park was like many of the other parks in the community. It was overgrown with trees and bush. Residents complained there was nowhere to walk in the park and to add insult to injury, it was used as the staging area for all the heavy equipment and material needed for the road project.
“It was basically destroyed,” said Wahlbeck.
After a time of enjoying wine and cheese and other snacks the neighbors, staff and politicians gathered around for the ribbon cutting.
“It is easy for us to stand here and say we did this,” said Mayor Gary Katica. “But the staff of the city did this. They are the ones who made this happen.”
Wahlbeck agreed as he thanked those who actually did the work on the project. Earlier he thanked Allison whose people made it happen.
“Ricky is a landscape architect and was highly involved in the planning,” he said. “He was actually the construction supervisor. We did the majority of the work in-house to save money.”
He then turned to the neighbors and thanked them for their input.
“You shared your vision with us,” he said. “Much of what you wanted is in this park, not everything but most of it. A lot of what you asked for you got. Now you have your park back.”
Then Katica, members of the commission and employees of the Parks Department, all with scissors, cut the ribbon multiple times to be sure the park was officially open.
Wahlbeck said the park renovations aren’t finished. He said Fountain Square is next, then Pinellas Park. The biggest park, Hunter Park is due for a makeover turning it into Hunter Memorial Park with a new fountain and displays honoring Belleair’s veterans. Work on that park should begin this summer.
Winston Park now includes plenty of open green space for residents to enjoy tossing a ball or Frisbee.