INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — It is such a tiny park to win such a big award.
After years of planning, the Pocket Park at Gulf Boulevard and Walsingham Road is complete and the planning and building of it has won the American Public Works Association West Coast Branch’s Project of the Year — Structure Award for the year 2019.
The park was a vision of the city fathers when they bought an old empty house on the property. They saw then what the property is now: a spectacular entrance to the city as people drive over the Walsingham Bridge onto Gulf Boulevard.
Once they demolished the house the work began on the park. The planning process included public meetings and discussion and debate over just how the park should look.
Now complete, it includes an 8-foot meandering walkway to get pedestrians from Gulf Boulevard to the beach. It includes extensive landscaping, a pergola for shade, bike racks and hidden lighting to help guide the way after dark.
The most spectacular part of the park is the city sign which towers over the entrance to the park and leaves no mistake that visitors are entering Indian Rocks Beach.
All that on a tiny 1/4 acre of land.
City Manager Gregg Mims is as proud of the award as he is of the park.
“It is an awesome award and a lot of people are to be credited for making it happen,” he said. “The project is so important because it is one of the gateways to the city; it emphasizes the importance of that property.”
As often as not involving projects of this size, city residents have differing views. Usually criticism is common, but not this time.
“There has been no pushback,” said Mims. “I don’t recall receiving any negative feedback about the park or the idea of the park or of what the final product is.”
Dean Scharmen, IRB’s director of Public Works, spearheaded the work on the project. He remembered the old house that was on the property.
“It was the old Schmidt house back in the day,” he said. “It became very dilapidated. It got to the point where it was cost-prohibitive to renovate so we bought it from the owner. It was a win-win for everybody.
Scharmen admitted someone else could have swooped in and obtained the property but that didn’t happen and the city was able to proceed with its plans.
“We were trying to get a passive entryway to the city and we had several visioning sessions as to what to do with the property. Once we remade the intersection we tied it all in,” he said.
Scharmen was referring to the makeover of Gulf Boulevard and Walsingham Road at that intersection. New crosswalks were installed, new traffic lights erected and the intersection was reconfigured with new landscaping. With that the area was ready for the park.
The city was helped in the construction and beautifying of the park by Action 2000 the city group dedicated to making Gulf Boulevard an attractive place to visit. The park fitted right into their wheelhouse.
Scharmen, who developed the narrative for the award, said it was special.
“It is pretty humbling,” he said. “Anytime we can get recognition for the city is a positive thing.”
Mims said the city hopes to erect a sculpture in the park in the near future.