Karla Rettstatt, whose idea it was to create Hunter Memorial Park and who spearheaded the fundraising campaign, speaks to the gathering at the May 31 groundbreaking ceremony.
BELLEAIR – Nearly two years ago Belleair resident Karla Rettstatt appeared before town commissioners and told them of a dream to turn Hunter Park into something special: a shrine for veterans.
Hunter Park was to become Hunter Memorial Park and on May 31 the sod was turned and the new park was on its way to becoming a reality.
Rettstatt has said on occasion that her father was the driving force behind her dream. Her father spent 28 years in the U.S. Army but is now in failing health. The fact that he was unable to attend the groundbreaking was disappointing to Rettstatt.
“He just wasn’t well enough to be here tonight,” she said. “But he will be here on Nov. 9 when the work will be finished and we hold the dedication ceremony.”
When Rettstatt appeared before the commission in October 2012, she pledged to raise the money needed to transform the park. She formed the Belleair Community Foundation and raised $310,000. That money has been passed over to the town and construction is to begin soon on the project.
In addition to considerable landscaping that will be done, a large fountain will be built surrounded by a structure honoring all five branches of the military. Work also will be done on the mall to create 17 new angled parking spaces to accommodate what Rettstatt and town officials hope will be an influx of people coming to browse and enjoy the surroundings.
From here on in the work on the park is in the hands of the town’s Park Supervisor Ricky Allison.
“We get to spend the money,” he said with a smile. “Actually we’ll be consulting with the foundation on specifics of the structure, but the actual work will be supervised by us. We have to make sure the contractors are doing what they are supposed to do and on time.”
Allison said there are three separate parts to what is happening at the park.
“The fountain is its own entity,” he said. “It has its own contractor who designs and builds fountains. Then there is the heavy work, the parking lot, the paths through the park, the sidewalks and so on. The same contractor who is doing most of our big projects and roadwork will be handling that.”
Allison said the third part of the job is the landscaping, and he will be directly in charge of that.
“I’ll be the project manager and it will include such things as the underground lighting and electrical work and so on,” he said.
Dozens of people showed up for the groundbreaking ceremony, among them resident Tom Kurey. He sees the new park as a way to bring the community together.
“We should all be able to rally around the military,” he said. “We’ve always been big supporters of the military and there are a lot of veterans in our family. They are true heroes and I hope this park will bring the town together after what we’re going through. This should be wonderful for the town of Belleair.”
Kurey was referring to the division between the preservationists who want to save the Belleview Biltmore Hotel and the others who would like to see it torn down to make way for development.
Mayor Gary Katica began the formal part of the ceremony by expressing his support for the project.
“I’m a Korean War veteran,” he said. “So you can only imagine how excited I am about this.”
Then it was Rettstatt’s turn to take the mike and thank the people who contributed and made the raising of $310,000 possible. She also reminded the crowd of the reason for the park.
“I have often been asked why a Veterans Memorial in Belleair. I ask why not,” she said. “Every day in the United States of America we have men and women of all ages serving in many different capacities. Every day we hear the Coast Guard choppers or the planes from MacDill fly over the skies of Belleair. We feel pretty safe living here.”
Rettstatt added the reason people feel safe in Belleair is because of the work performed by those members of the Armed Forces.
“Their hard work has, and continues to allow, the citizens of our great country the biggest right of all, freedom,” she said.
When asked if she was relieved, after a two-year campaign to raise the money necessary for the remake of the park, Rettstatt replied, not quite.
“I wouldn’t say relieved. I do feel wonderful,” she said. “It is an exciting time for Belleair.”
Actual construction on the park will begin almost immediately. Park Supervisor Allison said work will definitely begin in June, the sooner the better.
“We’ve been trying to coincide it with the construction of the new roundabout,” he said. “That keeps changing, but what won’t change is the end date for this park. It will be finished no later than October 15th. The contractors know that so they know when they have to start in order to be finished on time.”