In about a year or so, City of Zephyrhills residents and visitors will be able to jump right into a brand new park.
On Nov. 28, after more than five years of planning and budgeting, Pasco County’s largest municipality saw city officials break ground on Hercules Park — a 12-acre, $5.4-million park project coming to the corner of County Road 54 and Gall Boulevard, adjacent to Zephyrhills High and Woodland Elementary schools.
Designed to be a hub for community engagement, recreation and natural beauty, Hercules Park will feature a splash pad, playground and restrooms, sheltered picnic area, open playfield, 54 spaces of parking, a .75 perimeter walking trail and 5.3 acres of area with trails for hiking and biking. Construction is slated to begin January 2024, with a tentative completion date set for late 2024 or early 2025.
However, getting to the groundbreaking was a years-long process, with many hurdles city officials had to jump right over again and again.
“The (city) council had the desire, from the very beginning, to get it done, and the staff kept pushing to get the funding, so once we got the funding, it was set,” City Manager Billy Poe said.
Penny for Pasco revenues are being used to pay for the Hercules Park construction.
Talks of creating a new park and refurbishing the land began in 2017, shortly before Zephyrhills took control of the land in June 2018. Before that, Pasco County operated Hercules Aquatic Center, but that closed in 2009 because of budget constraints.
Once the city had the land, it began putting together a budget for the project, as well as designs, which went through many phases over the years. In late 2022, city officials, along with park designers Kimley-Horn, sat down and came up with designs that would honor the history of the land upon which the park will be built.
These design choices were made to honor the Hercules Powder Company, which previously owned 80 acres of land and established Camp No. 39 on this land in 1946. The site featured between 60 and 70 company-built, prefabricated homes rented to employees for $4 per room per month. Once the largest employer in Zephyrhills, with 150 people on its payroll at any time, the company also featured a commissary and baseball team.
Additionally, over that time, the city took into consideration feedback from the community and its residents, many of which were looking for a public pool. The splash pad was the workaround solution and added to the designs, especially since the splash pad at nearby Zephyr Park is already a popular attraction.
“We’re trying to have water aspects in everything we do in the city, we’re still the city of pure water, even if it’s not our motto anymore,” Poe said with a laugh, referring to the city’s newly-adopted slogan, ‘Jump Right In.’
“But,” he continued, “we want people to jump right into our parks, as a place for families to spend time together, a place people want to visit, and we felt it was important to incorporate the history into the design.
“For a while, during the process, I was little scared, in just making sure, as a city, we were doing it justice, from the history to giving the residents something to be proud of and that they wanted. I think it turned out really well.”
Hercules Park is just the first part of a much larger parks’ project in Zephyrhills.
Poe said the city plans to evaluate all of its parks and recreational sites “to determine where and if there are deficiencies and how we can improve our parks.”
The parks and recreation department in Zephyrhills includes the YMCA, the municipal golf course and Zephyr Park.
Zephyr Park was the focus of community uproar in April, after an old rendering of renovations to Zephyr Park was prematurely shared on social media. That sent the town into a tizzy — because it came as a surprise to its 18,000-plus residents.
It also raised concerns among residents about losing the sense of history associated with the 34-acre park on Fifth Avenue that features Alice Hall Community Center, five lighted tennis courts, handball, fishing, picnic pavilions with picnic tables, barbecue grills, horseshoe pits, playground equipment, and a 5/8 of a mile lakeside fitness path and trees dating back to the Civil War era.
The city held a town hall, reassuring residents no definitive upgrade plans have been set or even discussed for Zephyr Park. Many residents raised concerns about the removal of the Veterans Memorial at the park, though Poe and other city officials also reassured town residents that it would not be removed or relocated.
Now, with another hurdle cleared, and a groundbreaking complete, Poe and fellow city officials are ready to jump right into construction and present Hercules park to its more than 18,000 residents.
“If it takes us to spring (2025 to finish the park), it’s not going to hurt my feelings,” Poe said. “Because then, maybe, when we have the ribbon-cutting, the kids can actually go in the water at the splash pad.
“I think we’re all very excited to see it completed about a year from now.”
Published December 06, 2023