As the Zephyrhills Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) preps its budget for fiscal year 2020-21, city leaders are calling for more attention to Hercules Park, a 9-acre city-owned park land property off Gall Boulevard.
Zephyrhills CRA director Gail Hamilton on July 27 probed the CRA Board of Commissioners —chaired by Zephyrhills City Council members — on which types of projects they want to have the highest priority in the upcoming year, noting the agency appears in good shape with funding this coming year.
The answer was unanimous: Hercules Park improvements are well overdue.
CRA board member Lance Smith was quick to declare it’s time to gather community input and organize an action plan for the vacant park land that once had a buzzing aquatic center and swimming pool.
He observed Hercules Park, adjacent to Zephyrhills High and Woodland Elementary schools, is visibly nestled in “a very high traffic” intersection that includes a Wawa gas station and Culver’s fast-food restaurant.
“I think we should really work on Hercules some, because it’s been sitting there,” Smith said. “I don’t think we have to spend a tremendous amount of money on it, but I do think we have to put together a plan for it.”
Fellow board member Charles Proctor agreed Hercules Park fixes are “a longtime in the coming,” since ownership of the land was transferred to the city from the Pasco County School Board in June 2018.
Even minor improvements would make it a desirable passive park for residents, he said.
His general idea: “Make it simple, but usable,” so that upkeep isn’t an ongoing burden for the city’s public works department.
“I don’t necessarily want to go crazy with it,” Proctor said, “but I would like to make it usable, so if somebody wanted to have a picnic there or walk the trails, because it is a beautiful piece of property, and at least so that citizens can use it.”
Board chair Jodi Wilkeson added work on the park should be handled in phases, starting with some routine cleanup, then later on identify more specific long-term goals and objectives for the park’s future.
Board member Ken Burgess likewise agreed to have the property “spruced up enough where we can utilize it, until we come up with a better, eventual plan for it on down the road.”
All that in mind, Hamilton assured various park fixes are on the table for discussion.
The CRA originally planned to hold a community meeting for park input, but the COVID-19 pandemic caused it to fall by the wayside. Hamilton instead plans to meet with the city’s parks board for further input, then present it to the CRA board and city council.
Some early possibilities include underbrush clearing and designing a more welcoming park entrance, as well as installing a park fountain, benches, tree underlighting, and colorful sailcloth. Adding an art piece that pays homage to the history of the property is another idea, too, she said.
The park land is a legacy from about 80 acres once owned by the Hercules Powder Co.
The company, which converted pine stumps into resin and turpentine, had been the city’s largest employer.
“I think it needs to look nice when people drive by, (so) it looks like we care,” Hamilton said. “We’ll create a plan, and work that plan.”
A sign of how the property has languished over the years: Zephyrhills Mayor Gene Whitfield pointed out trees surrounding the park are covered in poison ivy.
Other CRA priorities for this budget cycle include installing wayfinding and gateway signage, sidewalk repairs and developing a public art master plan, among others.
The Zephyrhills CRA is a dependent special district in which any future increases in property values are set aside in a Trust Fund to support economic development and redevelopment projects within the designated district. Although it functions within the City of Zephyrhills, the Zephyrhills CRA is a separate and distinct legal entity. The Zephyrhills City Council also serves as the appointed board governing the Zephyrhills CRA.
The CRA district encompasses the center spine of the city, generally between Hercules Park to C Avenue, and from Zephyr Park to 17th Street. Within those boundaries are the following historic neighborhood districts: Hercules, Historic Jeffries, Historic Abbott, Moore’s Estate, Zephyr Lake, Oakside and Plaza.
Main Street events suspended until December
Elsewhere, Hamilton also mentioned all Main Street Zephyrhills events have been canceled until the end of December, due to COVID-19.
Main Street Zephyrhills is a 501c3 nonprofit that generally facilitates new business and organizes large events within the historic downtown district.
One of the nonprofit organization’s most popular annual events, Music & Motorcycles, will likely be rescheduled at a later date, once events are back in the fold, Hamilton said.
Guidelines from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) will be followed in making a determination of when events with large gatherings are safe to resume, she said.
“We don’t want to have an event that’s going to cause problems, so at this moment we are still monitoring the situation,” Hamilton told the board.
The Music & Motorcycles event is typically held in September and features a live band, and a 10-class ride-in bike show along Fifth Avenue in downtown Zephyrhills.
Other events impacted included the Veterans Day Parade, National Night Out, Halloween Howl and Festival of Lights.
Main Street’s new events coordinator is Paxton McCullough, a recent graduate from the University of Georgia. She takes over for Anna Stutzriem, who resigned in March after more than two years on the post.
The coordinator position is the organization’s lone city-funded employee position.
Published August 12, 2020
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