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Holland Park Redemption: Palm Coast’s Storied Playground Readies to Re-Open

| May 4, 2017

The new Holland Park is a gateway to Palm Coast's and Flagler County's past and its timeless topography. (c FlaglerLive)

The new Holland Park is a gateway to Palm Coast’s and Flagler County’s past and its timeless topography. (c FlaglerLive)

When Holland Park finally reopens for good in June, there’ll be the inevitable reflections about the project being a year behind schedule, about how the city had to fire the original contractor and invoke the surety bond on the $4.7 million contract, and the city itself might even get some of the blame.

But it won’t last. It’ll be too impressive, too inviting, its many playgrounds–for young and older, for the sportive or dog-loving, for the stroller or the spectator–too varied and even whimsical to let sour memories linger much longer. Holland park is its own redemption.

Even now, with the park still looking like a busy construction site in a few places, a walk through renovated Holland Park is at once a walk back and forward in time: you can still see the beauty it was as Palm Coast’s first, biggest and busiest park, though its intimacy then had become more cluttered than comfortable: It had grown haphazardly to accommodate a growing population and growing children, the boom and brawn of its basketball courts sometimes intimidatingly lording it over the nearby younger children’s playgrounds, its access road dead-ending after a semi-circular path near the tennis courts, and its dog park (oh, that dog park!) giving new meaning to dog day afternoons.

The two lit basketball courts have been positioned near the entrance to the park. Click on the image for larger view. (c FlaglerLive)

The two lit basketball courts have been positioned near the entrance to the park. Click on the image for larger view.
(c FlaglerLive)

The intimacy isn’t gone. It’ll still feel like a rather large neighborhood park, with sight lines crisscrossing from one activity area to another, but with a lot more room in between, and the sort of logic that doesn’t contradict the grounds’ playfulness: there’s a small ocean of green between the basketball courts nearer the entrance and the younger children’s playgrounds in the heart of the park, playgrounds that have been recreated as remnants of sugar mills to reflect part of the region’s history. There’s a now-complete road that circles around the park, with an inviting entrance that immediately announces more stately landscaping than the jut of concrete between patches of grass that had been there before.

And the dog park–parks, actually: one for the larger dogs, one for the smaller ones–could make even human beings envious if they didn’t have the rest of Holland Park to frolic in. It’s now about three times the size it was before,
its larger trees preserved, but its landscaping entirely reinvented down to the grounds’ gradients, which circularly slope down to a large pond, with a fountain, that will now collect the dreaded rains of the old version. The grounds themselves, previously a briny mush of dirt and furtive grasses of no identifiable genus, are covered in celebration bermuda grass, that rich, short-cropped sort used on ballfields. It’s got a strong root system and recovers quickly, and so would presumably withstands the scratching and digging of the friskiest paws. Between the larger dog park and its smaller sibling, arranged more like a garden retreat, the dog park’s luxury is more Downton Abbey than Florida Park Drive.

Still a busy worksite for now. Click on the image for larger view. (c FlaglerLive)

Still a busy worksite for now. Click on the image for larger view. (c FlaglerLive)

And though it wasn’t finished when it was visited by several reporters this afternoon, you could see the future of the park and the story its imaginative layout will tell as Carl Cote, the city’s construction manager–who had every reason to be leery of reporters’ questions at first: it’s been that kind of odyssey with this park–described it: There will be “lots of water feature elements, kind of like a wilderness scene, animals and wildlife figurines,” with the grounds made to look like a wetland area and sloping down into a marine-life like coast. “It’s kind of like travel through Palm Coast,” Cote says. That splash-park area of the park will not be part of the renovation ending next month, but rather part of the next phase of renovations, sometime in the next five years. But the recraetion of the sugar mills are very much part of the current renovations.

The theme of the playground area is this is Flagler County, Palm Coast, you’re taking me through time,” Cote said, with a wilderness area in a center zone of the playground.

So what you feel now in the park is an amplitude and a flow that didn’t exist before, along with all its previous amenities: the two basketball courts, the three tennis courts, the bocce courts, two baseball fields with rebuilt dugouts, two horseshoe courts, the redone volleyball court, and an eight-foot-wide trail that frames the entire acreage, to the coming delight of walkers, joggers and possibly the occasional cyclist. The old handball courts were so rickety that they’ve been torn down and will be rebuilt in the next phase. LED lighting is new everywhere but over the tennis courts (that’ll be in the future). And of course the bathrooms have been rebuilt and enlarged–and the Palm Coast Historical Society given a true home of its own.

A dog park good enough for Downton Abbey. Click on the image for larger view. (c FlaglerLive)

A dog park good enough for Downton Abbey. Click on the image for larger view. (c FlaglerLive)

“That’s why we went back and did a master plan, and said, OK, what’s the best utilization and layout of functions for the park,” Cote said. The result is the sort of municipal park likely to be a draw.

Cote, for his part, is probably sleeping better at night. “Yeah, it’s been a long, challenging project,” he said, displaying his mastery of understatements. “It’s a difficult one when you have a problem contractor, there’s lots of challenges and difficulties, getting it complete, getting it done correctly. Once the surety company took over I think we kind of–we were going fully plateau, we were going downhill, we got the surety on board and started going uphill again. It’s getting to the good feeling where the end is near. It’s great on any project when you get to the end, you see a lot of finishing touches happening, the sod, landscaping gets in place, the turf and in the playground, it drastically changes from being a construction site to being a finished product. That’s very exciting.”

The public, he said, will not remember long the road it took to get here–a road it did not experience as harrowingly as city staff did, anyway. “That’s what I’m looking forward to the most,” Cote said, “it’s getting the public out here to enjoy the park.”

And that begins before the next summer solstice as the park completes its journey from eyesore to crown jewel.

Palm Coast Construction Manager Carl Cote next to the park's namesake's plaque: both are sleeping better these days. (c FlaglerLive)

Palm Coast Construction Manager Carl Cote next to the park’s namesake’s plaque: both are sleeping better these days. (c FlaglerLive)

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9 Responses for “Holland Park Redemption: Palm Coast’s Storied Playground Readies to Re-Open”

  1. Lazaruis says:

    We are new to flagler beach
    Where is this park ?
    When will it open ?

  2. Jessy Davis says:

    My son loved this park from about the ages of 5 until about 9. He grew out of the play area, and we played basketball on the courts when it was quiet. I miss those times with him, and the park is good memories for me seeing my son grow up who is now 14. I hope everyone who uses the park once it is open enjoys it, and makes good memories with tier kids, because they like us adults grow up, and please do not miss any step, or heart beat with them. Use the park for good times, and rolling forward memories !!

  3. Anonymous says:

    it looks like it will be a nice place to take my grandson

  4. David S. says:

    Dog Park can’t wait……

  5. Shark says:

    Just a waste of millions !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Another landon, netts white elephant !!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Eizee says:

    When is opening day? Finding a spot to play fetch with a large dog in PC is not easy, looks wonderful!

  7. F Section Home Owner says:

    I’ll never forget how long this park took to construct. I’d be extremely interested in an official city perspective narrative describing the issues we faced through the construction. We should consider and address the issues faced, to prevent this from happening to other projects in the future. Something more critical than just blaming a contractor.

  8. Old Lady says:

    Bring back the 70-year-old “bullies ” that hang around the dog park and harass children and their parents. No Thanks

  9. YankeeExPat says:

    RE: Old Lady

    The “DOG PARK” is…………are you ready for this? ………………….. for dogs, not children!

    I couldn’t possibly count how many times I had witnessed “parents”, literally drop their kids off in the dog park while they were on the benches smoking, or sat in the car texting.

    Only paying any attention to the behavior of their little darlings, when the kid gets knocked down by the pack of dogs chasing the screaming prodigy.

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