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ST. PETE BEACH — The city has been forced to suspend its memorial bench program after it became the victim of its own success and popularity.

Public Works Director Mike Clarke said over the years the program has been so successful that there are now 87 city-approved memorial benches on the beach, mostly in Pass-A-Grille.

“Bench spacing on the sand has become quite crowded and, for that reason, the program has been suspended,” Clarke reported. “However, Public Works continues to receive requests for consideration. The emotional attachment families have with the beach and loved ones who have passed is very evident.”

During a March 23 commission meeting, City Manager Alex Rey told commissioners that “while the city is still getting requests for memorial benches, all the possible places on the beach where a bench can be placed has been saturated.”

For that reason, Clarke said, Public Works offers an option to dedicate a Sabal palm tree that has been planted along the beach sand wall on Gulf Way as an alternative, at the cost of $475 for the tree plus installation.

Rey said city staff is recommending the memorial bench program be modified to a tree program.

“There are some locations on Pass-A-Grille where palm trees can be planted, but there are also opportunities in parks if someone wants an oak or similar tree,” Rey told commissioners. “The tree will include a plaque that commemorates the person or family to be memorialized in the program. The city is estimating a $500 donation will be sufficient to cover the tree and plaque.”

Commissioner Melinda Pletcher told commissioners the tree program started in a Pass-a-Grille park, but a problem became evident when people choose a tree symbolic of their family or their loved one, “which caused a little bit of inconsistency in landscape patterns.”

Rey said to alleviate the confusion, the city will have a designated tree menu from which people can choose.

Pletcher said the city should also have a landscape plan that calls for specific trees. She added any plan should consider maintenance and related costs. She suggested some people might be willing to place a plaque on an existing tree, rather than planting a new one. “My only concern is making sure we’re driving the bus on what our parks look like in the future.”

Commissioners unanimously approved the memorial tree planting concept.

Next phase of Hurley Park restoration approved

The latest phase of Hurley Park restoration, which includes a wraparound sidewalk and drainage improvements at the Warren Webster Community Center, was approved by city commissioners.

Rey told commissioners the piecemeal approach to improving Hurley Park in Pass-A-Grille is actually saving the city thousands of dollars.

“You’ve been getting a lot of individual items on Hurley Park reconstruction. We decided instead of putting this item out for bid under a single contract, where we had estimates of over $2 million, we decided to do it piecemeal, and basically act as a general contractor in pursuit of this project.”

Clarke said the city requested a proposal from Gilliam Construction for sidewalk installation at Hurley Park and waterproofing around the Webster building.

He explained a new stamped sidewalk will be installed along 15th and 16th avenues from Pass-a-Grille Way to Gulf Way. The new sidewalk will also connect to the newly installed dog park along 16th Avenue, and to the concession stand, as well as the Webster building on 15th Avenue.

Clarke added Gilliam will also waterproof the foundation around the perimeter of the community center where water intrusion into the building has occurred in the past. The center, whose walls are adorned with historic photographs, can hold gatherings of about 100 people. The facility features ten banquet and round tables, along with a full kitchen and other amenities such as a faux fireplace.

After the waterproofing is completed, Gilliam will regrade and construct a concrete pad on the west side of the building that will be sloped to convey rainwater away from the structure while also providing a patio space for events and rentals. The Historic Preservation Board approved the sidewalk and concrete items during its March 4th meeting.

Commissioners approved a work order for all the concrete around the park for $113,000, which falls within the $600,000 budget for the project, Rey told commissioners. Gilliam anticipates the six weeks of construction to begin within two weeks.

In another park improvement project, Parks and Recreation officials approved a bid offered by West Florida Fence to replace the ball field fencing at Egan Park for $58,909. Located at 9101 Blind Pass Road, 5.4-acre Egan Park includes two ball fields, two lighted tennis courts, two lighted pickleball courts, walkways, a fishing pier and boat ramp.

City invests in parking for library, Corey shops

The city finalized plans to contract for the purchase of property at 7300 Boca Ciega Drive for $325,000 in order to expand parking for its library and the Corey Avenue shopping district.

A closing date of May 1 has been set for the deal to be close, Parks and Recreation Director Jennifer McMahon noted. As part of the contract, the city has agreed to pay the taxes, fees and closing costs.