As plans gelled late last year to celebrate the re-opening of Sims Park, several of us wanted to do something more than the sort of simple ribbon cutting that we’ve had for other completed projects. Some members of the city staff figured we might get 50 or even 100 folks to show up. To be on the safe side, a member of the Parks & Rec. staff went around and collected 200 copies of flyers and other stuff from downtown businesses to go in some goody bags to be handed out.
I never bought the 50-100 participant estimates. I’d seen far too many folks peering through the construction fencing for the past few months. People were always asking me about the park. Staff was nice enough to give each council member a few invitations to hand out to folks we thought should be invited. Two of mine went to local pastors, asking them to invite members of their congregations to join us. I posted a copy of the invitation to my email list. With my invitations, I figure I probably invited 500 folks to come.
Even after setting the ribbon cutting for a month after the original target date for completion of the work in the park, it was still a rush to lay sod and finish other things in the last few days before the Grand Re-Opening ceremony. Sod was going down Thursday and Friday in the rain. During the last few days, we had to install some state required signage and solve other last minute crises.
My personal favorite is the “No Diving” sign that the Florida Department of Health demanded for the splash pad.
We were blessed with “Chamber of Commerce” weather Saturday and people started showing up early. Naturally, the kids gravitated to the new playground. The high estimate of maybe 200 folks went by the boards… there were easily 200 kids in the playground at any one time.
I can count ten kids on the teeter-totter and I’m pretty sure we are missing at least two more that can’t be seen in this picture.
The splash pad was a hit as well. This in spite of the fact that we opened things up in January and it was a bit on the cool side. The young man waiting to catch a water jet in the face is my grandson.
A number of the local restaurants were handing out samples in the area south of the concert circle. The lines for those samples were quite long.
The lines weren’t confined to free food in the park either. Ottaway’s Ice Cream Parlor reported that the line went out the door when they opened at 10am and the line was still out the door when I dropped by about 3:30pm.
The West Pasco Historical Society Museum was packed Saturday. Its proximity to the playground has given it all sorts of exposure that it didn’t have before.
The two new covered picnic areas close to the brick walkway that replaced Circle Blvd both feature charcoal grills. Both grills have already been put to use.
As is my custom, I stopped by my office Sunday morning between church services so I could pull the recording of the first service off the flash drive. I was not surprised to see some folks over in the park as I headed back to church about 10:30. I was SHOCKED to see what things looked like after the second service ended at noon. The Gloria Swanson lot was at least 3/4 full with more cars pulling in one right after another.
I walked over to the park. There must have been a hundred kids in the playground with more trying out the splash pad. I saw families bicycling on the new sidewalks that crisscross the park. The picnic tables were in use. One appeared to be set up for a birthday party, complete with balloons.
The new Sims Park is clearly a hit. I’m very pleased with the community response. Large numbers of families enjoying the park week after week will make the entire area far more vibrant than the occasional special events do.
We’ve got more improvements in the works. The kayak launch should go in within the next 4-6 weeks and the rehab work on the Orange Lake part of the park will start later this year. Those improvements will include docks that you will be able to walk out on.
We’re looking at installing video screens that would enhance both concerts and our popular movies in the park series. The screens are very expensive, so I won’t predict whether we will buy them or rent some to see how they work out.
I’m guessing that we’ll have staff looking for funds to add a couple more shade structures in the concert circle. The two that just went in are great and they were well used during the ribbon cutting ceremony.
I’m thrilled to be leading a city council that was willing to step forward and support a major remake of Sims Park. Please be sure to thank my colleagues when you see them.
Finally, I can’t say enough good things about City Manager Debbie Manns, Robert Rivera and John Fussell (Public Works), Elaine Smith and Selma (Parks and Rec.), and the entire city staff that went way above and beyond the call of duty to make things happen. We had public works and park staff members on-site again today (Sunday) tweaking the splash pad system.
All I can say is “WOW!”
Rob Marlowe, Mayor