pioneer park

Dunedin officials plan to renovate John R. Lawrence Pioneer Park, where several events are held yearly, such as a Cinco de Mayo celebration.

DUNEDIN — One of the city’s most popular parks, John R. Lawrence Pioneer Park, is slated to get a facelift during a two-year project scheduled for completion in 2021.

During a Community Redevelopment Agency meeting Aug. 22, city Housing and Economic Development Director Bob Ironsmith and Andrew Hill, senior principal architect consultant from Cardno, presented two design concepts to refurbish the park and its popular bandshell area.

City officials are excited about this project, Ironsmith told commissioners.

“Pioneer Park is a very active place. With so much activity, the park starts to degrade.”

In planning the restoration, architects considered “how can we make the park look good year-round, as well as look good for all the activities that take place,” Ironsmith said.

Hill added with all the use the park receives, “it’s constantly being battered.”

Ironsmith listed the many activities held throughout the year at Pioneer Park including: Downtown Market, Films in the Park, Youth Guild Art, Ukulele Concert, St. Patrick’s Day, Dunedin Wines The Blues, Mardi Gras, arts and crafts festivals, Old Fashioned Christmas, Fitness Marathon, downtown trick or treating, Dunedin International Film Festival, Pipe Band concerts and Cinco de Mayo.

“Any other downtown would kill to have a park with this kind of activity of a market,” Ironsmith said.

Parks and Recreation Director Vince Gizzi added, with all the use the park gets, especially from the very popular Friday and Saturday Green Markets, ”it's hard to grow grass, because it get so compacted.”

“In general the park looks tired and needs a boost; it needs to be jump started and that’s what the enhancements would do,” Ironsmith added.

He told commissioners the Parks Department spends anywhere from $4,000 to $6,500 each year to re-sod Pioneer Park in the summer.

“The resodding looks great for several months and then the area begins to look poorly as the sod deteriorates from the wear and tear. With this in mind, Community Redevelopment staff and Parks and Recreation staff retained consultant Cardno to develop concepts for enhancing the park,” the CRA Director explained.

The main design concept would replace grass with artificial turf that can withstand the constant foot traffic.

Commissioners unanimously favored the design concept, dubbed, “Free Form Wave,” which was recommended by both the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee and the Community Redevelopment Advisory Committee.

The design includes use of artificial turf rather than grass, because it’s more sturdy and resilient; it can withstand the constant foot traffic in the park while still looking great, Hill said. Other elements include use of brick pavers in a wave design, and a raised deck as a seating area under the oaks.

Restoration is tentatively estimated to cost from $460,000 and $500,000, and includes design and bidding plans, enhancements to the band stage and physical improvements to the park.

The CRA budgeted $145,000 for the first phase to be completed in 2020. The first phase includes design and bidding plans along with enhancements to the band stage.

The remaining budget will be applied to the second phase, which includes actual park improvements to be completed in 2021.

The redesign of Pioneer Park calls for three rows of brick pavers, stained concrete, and a bed of artificial turf to be added to the park. Three paver walkways, designed in a rainbow-shaped, ripple effect, and separated by artificial turf, will stretch within the park. A raised seating area will be located under the oak trees by the current brick wall.

No trees will be removed; all work will be done around the trees, Ironsmith said.

“Funds for all the improvements to Pioneer Park would come from budgeted CRA dollars,” he said.

The rejected design featured rows of pavers in a straight line, separated by artificial turf, and intersected by a horizontal line of pavers.

Commissioner Deborah Kynes said Pioneer Park “is just a little park that’s loved to death.” She favored the radial curve design, noting artificial turf has gotten a lot better over the years.

Commissioner Heather Gracy said “all concepts look terrific. You captured the spirit of Dunedin.”

She added the free form curved walkways are reminiscent of ripples one might see in the water at the marina.

Gizzi said “the city has been talking about doing this for many years. The concepts look good, I agree with the decking (under the oak trees), which will make the north side of the park ADA accessible.”

Commissioner Jeff Gow said the design “is a great job and the overall enhancement looks fabulous.”

However, the commissioner added he is “concerned” about use of artificial turf grass, because “it’s still basically a plastic run. When it reaches its lifestyle what will we do with it? It can’t go in a landfill.”

“I think people are drawn to Pioneer Park for its natural grass. Yes (artificial turf’s) green but artificial green,” he said, adding he likes the idea, feel and smell of real grass.

Gizzi noted the city is already using artificial turf in Weaver and Highlander parks, which reduces the city’s use of fertilizers and pesticides and is more resilient with heavy foot traffic.

Commissioner Maureen Freaney said she “would not go with artificial turf if it wasn’t for the Fresh Market (foot traffic). I only want turf because of the market.”

Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said she likes the redesign, but would like to see potted plants included to add color in the park, along with bike racks and for staff to consider the possibility of incorporating a single unisex restroom.

The mayor noted there is a lack of public restrooms downtown, with the only one located behind the Railroad Museum.

Kynes quipped that she has “visions of an outhouse” in Pioneer Park.

The mayor said cost will be a factor and whether a bathroom is feasible in the park.

She added “the free form concept is really awesome.”

Commissioners voiced approval for the preliminary concept and directed staff to return to a regular commission meeting with a final design for a vote, incorporating more green artificial turf, a possible solar charging station and flowers.