Palm Coast government and the county are starting a nearly $200,000, eight-month process to determine how the city’s parks should grow, what they should offer and how they should be marketed to users, including city and county residents and beyond. The city is looking to add to the broader regional appeal of park facilities like the Indian Trails Sports Complex and–assuming it can recover some of its broken amenities–Holland Park.
Palm Coast and Flagler County government are working jointly on the plan, splitting the cost. Three city staffers and two county staffers formed the committee that wrote a joint request for proposals, seeking a consultant that would over the next 10 months gather the necessary public input and produce a report, or a blueprint, for the city to follow in the years ahead.
The council approved hiring BerryDunn, a Portland, Me.-based accounting, management and IT consultancy firm, with a 48-year history and a staff stocked with former parks and recreations professionals. Ron Swanson is not one of them.
The firm was one of only two companies that responded to the request. It barely edged out the other, Perez Planning Design, when city staff rated the two. “They have a very intimate and unique experience and knowledge of what it takes to be in parks and recreation and how to balance a community needs with those local government processes,” Brittany McDermott, the city’s deputy director of parks and recreations, said. The wrote master plans for Palm Beach, martin County and Parkland in Florida.
The company will first inventory what’s here: all the parks facilities that belong to the city, the county, Bunnell, Flagler Beach, the school district and privately-run but publicly available recreation facilities.
That inventory will be extensive and unique (to this point, anyway), including all parks, open spaces, neighborhood parks, developed and undeveloped sites, church playgrounds, derelict sites, lakes, wetlands, natural features, and so on. The consultants will then seek residents’ input: what kind of parks and programs do they want? “It’s hugely important that we get the voices of our community and that we do provide that input throughout this entire process,” McDermott said. “So that was a notable part of the scope of work that will be done through stakeholders, focus groups, community partnerships, as well as statistically valid surveys.”
For example, last April the council learned in more detail of the woeful conditions at Belle Terre Park and Frieda Zamba Pool, both of which need extensive repairs. Cracked tennis courts at the park could be hazardous to players, the pool itself, while not unsafe, is old, its staff quarters cramped and unwieldy. But the city didn’t know what it would cost to revamp either. It renamed its Frieda Zamba pool an “aquatic center,” but that’s more of a projected wish than a reality: the pool is firmly soaking in the 20th century. So while the council’s own set of goals, or strategic action plan, calls for making parks and recreations’ capital improvements a priority in the coming five-year plan, that remains to be implemented.
Council member Theresa Pontieri asked the question a facility like Frieda Zamba has been begging for the last several years: “Is there going to be some type of cost benefit analysis with regards to improving and continuing to do maintenance on some of these facilities versus what doing brand new facilities looks like long term, so that we know what is it going to cost to continue to band-aid certain things versus providing the same services, via a new facility?”
The consultant is expected to answer that very question, which was spelled out in the requirements to land the contract: “Analyze the adequacy of the existing recreation system,” and “Determine the appropriate Level of Service (LOS) standard or need for the future parks and recreation system.”
The city administration is pushing the consultant to finish the work by June 2023, ahead of budgeting and capital improvement planning. City for 2023-24. The first phase–data collection–is already under way. The process will include one-on-one interviews by the consultants of the five council members, whose opinions will obviously carry a weight of its own. They’ll also meet with focus groups in February and March, and put out a survey around then, through direct mail to select households, and through the web. The requirement includes at least one “public workshop,” with public notice to the general public across the county. Such notices have not always been easily accessible or widely broadcast.
Palm Coast Mayor David Alfin underscored the nature of city parks as inherently regional rather than municipal amenities. “We’re sort of beyond the boundaries of the city at this point, but residents are enjoying these amenities regardless of where they lie geographically within the municipal boundaries,” he said. He weas curious about county buy-in. But that buy-in is evident in the county’s willingness nearly split the cost of the master planning, knowing that the city still carries the louder voice.
“We have a great relationship going through this process and making sure that they had ample opportunity to provide input and also includes a financial investment,” City Manager Denise Bevan said. BerryDunn could potentially submit additional costs. Those will be borne by Palm Coast.
Alfin and the city manager were barely alluding to one of the more potentially far-reaching–or controversial–aspects of the consultants’ task: to explore the possibility of a consolidated city-county parks and recreation system. Consolidation has always triggered turf battles in the past, with a county always on its guard about an expanding palm Coast. But the two governments are going through a more cooperative period, with two chief executives whose egos are nowhere near those of their predecessors.
That may explain the following directive in the scope of work’s fine print: “the Consultant may provide/develop a methodology to propose alternative levels of service for a Countywide Recreation and Park system. All proposed alternatives shall be based on the feedback received from the community regarding the need for additional or special facilities or programs or, if desired by the community, a reduction in the service available.”
The full scope of work is below.