Karla Rettstatt of the Belleair Community Foundation explains to the public meeting the plans for a Memorial Fountain in Hunter Park.
Photo by BRIAN GOFF
Artist’s conception of the proposed Memorial Fountain for Belleair’s Hunter Park.
BELLEAIR – Town officials plan a big makeover project for Hunter Park, including a Memorial water fountain to honor all five branches of the American Armed Forces.
Belleair Recreation Director Eric Wahlbeck told the participants at a public meeting on Sept. 27 that the makeover of Hunter Park was just the first and eventually the town would renovate all the 19 parks within its boundaries.
In addition to the fountain Wahlbeck said efforts would be made to open up more space. “We’re going to clear away some of the shrubs and trees,” he said. “We’ll build some sort of shade structure so people can have picnics and gatherings out of the sun. There will be more parking and we’ll have signs on either end of the park. Right now there are no signs.”
None of the planned improvements will come cheap. With the fountain included, the total cost is estimated at $460,000, and Wahlbeck admits the town doesn’t have that kind of money to spruce up a park. It was then he introduced Karla Rettstatt, a board member of the Belleair Community Foundation, which will raise all the money for the work.
“We’ve already begun to get money,” she said. “In fact we’re doing very well and all the money will be in hand before anything begins.”
Rettstatt said the idea to include the Memorial Fountain in the park came when she mentioned it to Wahlbeck one day and together they decided it could be done.
“This project is close to my heart,” said Rettstatt. “My Dad, who lives with me now, spent 28 years in the Army. I asked him what he thought we should do and he suggested the 5-point star as representative of the five branches of the service.”
Surrounding the fountain will be the five flags of each branch of the service.
Rettstatt said the foundation will hold a major fundraising event each year to continue to raise money for maintenance or work on other parks. The foundation and the town will split 50/50 the cost of maintenance estimated to be just over $6,000 a year.
Parks Supervisor Ricky Allison then unveiled several choices of styles for benches, picnic tables and trashcans. Residents attending the meeting were asked to vote for their preference on their way out.
Belleair resident Rae Claire Johnson expressed concern over the signage for the park.
“We moved here because there were no signs,” she said. “We moved here because of the green space and now there are getting to be too many signs in town.”
Resident Sara Borger, who is also an employee of the Recreation Department, echoed her concern. Borger, who lives across the street from the park, was concerned with how it will look once it is finished.
“I’m scared,” she said. “I’m scared because I don’t want it to look too commercial.” Wahlbeck replied that he had heard that comment before.
“That is the number one concern of people I’ve talked to; don’t make it too commercial. And I agree with them,” he said.
Wahlbeck also responded to a woman who said she never sees any children playing in the parks.
“That is why here and in the future we’re going to open up more space so children can play,” he said.
Military veteran and resident Bill Hutton was pleased with the plan for the memorial.
“I’m all for it,” he said. “A lot of men from Belleair were heroes who fought. I think it is good.”
Construction on Hunter Park won’t start anytime soon. Wahlbeck told the audience there may have to be another public meeting and more planning work done before the proposal gets to the Commission for approval.
“That should take two months,” he said. “After that construction can begin and that should take about three months.”
Wahlbeck said things wouldn’t stop there. “This is our first park, this is not our last park,” he said.
The gazebo in Hunter Park will be removed to make way for a new structure and Memorial Fountain as part of a massive makeover.