OUR POSITION: The Punta Gorda City Council recently took anappropriate step in revitalizing the Bayfront Center in Gilchrist Park.

It’s the next step in getting it right.

The Punta Gorda City Council recently directed staff to include a potential planning project for development of a waterfront activity center at a portion of Gilchrist Park that currently houses the Punta Gorda Boat Club and the Bayfront Center.

The plan is to redo the boat house and Bayfront Center in a couple of years using the sales tax revenue if it’s approved by the voters in November 2020. The official cost of the activity center has yet to be determined.

This is an important project for a couple of reasons.

Perhaps the most important is to bolster use. The parcel is located at the western end of Gilchrist Park, near where Retta Esplanade gives way to Shreve Street. Gilchrist is a popular place in Punta Gorda, and the section that includes the Bayfront Center is probably the least used by the general public.

It’s also important that whatever goes there fits architecturally. Traveling west on Retta, the Historic District, with its stately mansions, sits on the left, giving way to the Impac building, which waits to be occupied or modified.

Punta Gorda needs something pretty to enhance the landscape of the waterfront side. Right now, there’s a one-story building, a parking lot and a seldom-used basketball court.

With Sunseeker — and its potential for an image without a soul — about to soak up the horizon on the Charlotte Harbor side of the harbor, it’s vital the Bayfront project provide something in context with Punta Gorda and its small-town charm.

In January 2017, Team Punta Gorda conducted a survey for the city on how best to revitalize the land where the Bayfront Center now sits. Out of 1,031 responses, 66 percent of respondents said the park needed a new facility. Water sports — including kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding and sailing — was the top activity represented, gathering 60 percent of public vote.

An idea floated by a team of restaurateurs to build a 9,500-square-foot, 250-seat waterfront restaurant and 2,000-square-foot community center met with a lukewarm response in the survey.

Support for a commercial operation was below 40 percent, the survey said, with an equal number indicating they would seldom or never use a commercial facility on the site.

The survey did not discuss future facility designs, costs, budgets or plans to pay for a new facility, time frames or which entities may manage a new facility.

The time for that discussion has come.

In mid-October, the City Council approved entering into negotiations with Dover Kohl & Partners to develop a conceptual plan for the area.

The intent, City Manager Howard Kunik wrote in his weekly council update, was to “include recommendations and utilize the services of a multi-disciplinary team with proven expertise in architecture, landscape architecture, park facility planning, public engagement, design charrette management, and urban design. …”

“This is the next step,” Kunik said. “The firm will use the Team Punta Gorda information and City Council discussion as background.”

“They are sequential steps in the same thing,” Team Punta Gorda CEO Nancy Johnson said.

They are not only sequential steps, they are appropriate steps.

It’s all about getting it right.


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