Your tax dollars at play in Cape Coral
March has been a hat-trick month for Cape residents whose idea of paradise includes lots of recreational opportunities.
Two ribbon-cuttings and a major groundbreaking put your tax dollars into play for a trio of parks projects either finishing or just getting started as part of what has grown to be a $73 million parks master plan.
The first: the March 3 ribbon-cutting for the Del Prado Linear Park expansion. The $1.4 million project added a shaded playground, a basketball court, restrooms and parking to the park already anchored by a 10-foot wide sidewalk that runs four miles from Pine Island Road to Kismet Parkway on both sides of the road.
The benefit? It’s been immediate and very visible for those of us who drive the extension:
Young children bounding about in the playground.
Teens shooting hoops.
Ample traffic of various sorts along the paved pathway — cyclists, rollerbladers and strollers with canine companions — on into the evening, thanks to new lighting.
Originally part of a road widening improvement project, the resident-embraced upgrade is one of 17 such projects throughout the city, thanks to Cape Coral taxpayers voting to dig a little deeper to expand the city’s park system.
Residents who appreciate the amenities that public parks provide also got a glimpse this month at a major upgrade still to come.
The city broke ground last Friday for its now under way Lake Kennedy Racquet Center at the existing park campus off Santa Barbara Boulevard.
The $10.7 million expansion will include 32 new pickleball courts — making the center large enough to accommodate major tournaments — 12 tennis courts, concessions, a pro shop and restrooms.
The city originally planned to do the expansion in two phases — add 16 pickleball and six tennis courts in the first phase, then another 16 pickleball courts sometime later. Officials discovered that bidding the project all at once could get the city all 32 pickleball courts at once along with another six tennis courts to boot for $2 million more than the $8.7 million budgeted for the first phase alone.
City officials grabbed the deal, showing good fiscal foresight.
Kudos to city council and staff for a choice well made.
The third March milestone is today’s ribbon-cutting for Gator Trails Park, set for 10 a.m. at 3612 Garden Blvd.
The park, which got $2.1 million in upgrades, now will offer a shady walking loop; playground; multi-purpose open space; picnic shelters; basketball, pickleball, and tennis courts; and restrooms.
Other projects are in varying stages from already completed to under way, from ready to go to bid to still in permitting.
In addition to the 17 upgrades to existing parks, the master plan calls for seven new neighborhood parks, three new community parks and a $5.7 million environmental park.
For those questioning these expenditures “when the city has other infrastructure needs,” let us re-emphasize this is a resident-approved initiative with voter-approved funding.
Cape residents approved the parks master plan in 2018 when they voted in favor of a $60 million general obligation bond to be paid back over 15 years with an increase in property taxes, on average, $55.50 more per year.
This money cannot be diverted to other types of projects.
Like most major initiatives there have been some bumps along the way. COVID delayed the expected startup, the rising cost of materials and labor affected the budget and there were some citizen concerns due to surprise changes to at least three of the parks, including a highly controversial and much-more costly revamp to the Yacht Club complex, now a necessity rather than a desire due to Hurricane Ian.
But if overall public comment — and public demand — is any indication, Cape residents are getting the promised bang for their buck.
And then some.
The city’s Parks and Recreation Department says it well on its web page:
“Regardless of a person’s age, parks are one of the few places where it all comes together — a sense of community, an appreciation of history and place, respect for nature, and good health. Cape Coral’s parks are where lifetime friendships are formed, where the gap between generations is bridged, and where people discover what they have in common. How do you grow a hometown with a sense of community while conserving green spaces and waterways for generations to come? It Starts in Parks!”
Here in the Cape, it does, indeed.