CLEARWATER – As a city’s demographics change, so do its recreational needs. That’s why most cities periodically update their parks and recreation master plans.
At the Oct. 14 Clearwater City Council work session, Felicia Leonard, Clearwater’s administrative support manager for Parks and Recreation, briefed the council on the current status of Clearwater’s efforts to update its master plan.
“We’re looking at what are the relevant statistics for us to measure for this community so we can get the most bang for our buck,” Kevin Dunbar, the city’s parks and recreation director, told the council. And there were statistics galore.
With 108,732 residents, Clearwater has one of the oldest populations of any city its size. With 34,251, or 31.5 percent, of its citizens over the age of 60, Clearwater trails only Scottsdale, Ariz., in the percentage of elderly residents for U.S. cities with a population of 100,000 or more. The nationwide average is 19 percent.
The 15,850 residents, or 14.6 percent of Clearwater’s population, who are under the age of 15 put Clearwater below the national average of 19.6 percent.
Clearwater’s 59,156 households have a median annual income of $41,986. The population is 52.2 percent female and 47.8 percent male. Nearly 80 percent of them are white and just under 11 percent of them are black. The rest are a United Nations of ethnicities, including a large Hispanic community.
“How we classify our parks is the foundation of any master planning effort,” Leonard told the council.
Neighborhood parks could have playgrounds, outdoor courts, picnic areas, open space or landscaping, she said. They serve an area within a 1-mile radius.
Regional parks offer amenities that cater to the entire community. They are typically large in area and include the amenities found in neighborhood parks but also have a staffed recreation center. They also may have a pool or facilities for cultural activities.
Special-use facilities provide large-scale, user-oriented recreational activities. Some examples are tennis courts, golf courses, sports complexes, beaches, dog parks and performing arts venues.
Open-space parks are generally open land with natural or aesthetic landscaping and no amenities. They are often designed to mitigate rainwater runoff and “provide visual and psychological relief from urban development,” Leonard said. They serve the entire city.
Environmental parks provide a balance of ecological diversity and wildlife habitat. They support nature, history, cultural and hiking programs, and they typically have trails and facilities for educational programs.
With 27 playgrounds, Clearwater has 22 more than the five recommended for its amount of residents under the age of 15. Its 53 tennis courts are 28 more than the 25 recommended for a city its size. But its 1.2 miles of equestrian trails are 1.4 miles short of the recommended amount.
Based on a ratio of one mile per 2,000 residents, Clearwater’s 23.1 miles of bike trails fall 30.9 miles short of the recommended amount of 54 miles. And the 8.05 miles of nature trails are slightly less than the recommended 8.2 miles.
Clearwater’s 303 picnic tables greatly exceed the 140 recommended, and its nine volleyball courts are 11 short of the recommended amount. But its golf courses, dog parks, softball/baseball fields, basketball courts, indoor and outdoor swimming polls, community centers and multi-purpose fields all fall within 10 percent above or below the recommended amounts.
A series of workshops were held to get citizens’ input about what they want in the line of recreational facilities. But less than one-tenth of Clearwater residents turned out for them, and 56.8 percent of those who did were age 60 or over.
“This is not a valid scientific survey” of all Clearwater residents, Mayor George Cretekos said.
When asked what they “strongly agree” Clearwater needs, 80 percent said activities to maintain or improve health, 68 percent said activities for children and teens, 63 percent said opportunities for seniors, and 58 percent said green or natural spaces.
Sixty-four percent of those surveyed said that they want large recreation centers that serve the entire community, 48 percent wanted restrooms in high-volume facilities, 67 percent wanted events that attract visitors, and 52 percent wanted programs and facilities that meet the needs of current and future residents.
Sixty-three percent of respondents said that taxes should pay most of the cost of recreational activities, with user fees paying the rest. But 14 percent believed exactly the opposite. Ten percent believe that taxes should cover the entire cost of recreation, and 2 percent believe that user fees should.
“Right now, there’s a perception that it’s all free,” Vice Mayor Paul Gibson said.
Clearwater’s population is expected to decline by 5,000 between now and the year 2040 as older residents die off faster than babies are born to replace them. To prepare its recreational facilities for that, the city is currently seeking citizens’ input through a Stakeholder Advisory Committee, community workshops, an online communication forum and questionnaires sent to selected residents.
Mayor Cretekos encouraged residents to participate in as many of those forums as possible.