Punta Gorda Vice Mayor Lynne Matthews did not support the latest design concept for parking renovations at Gilchrist Park despite the rest of City Council approving it at Wednesday’s meeting.

PUNTA GORDA — “Two million dollars for 29 spaces,” said Vice Mayor Lynne Matthews in a debate over additional parking options for Gilchrist Park in Punta Gorda at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

“We took away a bunch of other stuff (for this area of the park) that we originally voted to accept a year ago — by the way — and now we are taking another 17 spaces away from the new design,” Matthews continued. “It doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

“There’s no point in having a park if people can’t get to it.”

In a 4-1 vote with Matthews dissenting, the City Council approved moving forward with a conceptual design for the next phase of renovations on the western end of the park along West Retta Esplanade.

The design allows for 29 additional parking spaces, as well as around 45 existing informal grass spaces that will be paved for more regularized and orderly parking.

Additional and improved parking has always been a goal for the city with the overall renovations at Gilchrist.

The park, as a whole, currently has 121 spaces and eight ADA spaces.

The selected design originally called for 46 additional spaces but the majority of council members opted to remove 17 on-street spaces that would have been built outside of the Bayfront Center and Punta Gorda Boat Club parking lots.

By suggesting those spaces be removed, Council Member Debby Carey said, “I think that’s an area that gets very congested and I just think of all the places along there, that’s going to be the least safe.”

The estimated cost — based on 2018 estimates — for that option was around $2 million.

How the removal of the 17 spaces would affect that estimate could not be determined.

“Optimistically, we would think that we would see somewhat, in the order, of a $300,000 reduction in cost based on those changes,” City Planner Mitchell Austin told the Sun. “It’s less material, less asphalt — less stuff — so hopefully that will bear out.

“But again, those would be static 2018 numbers, not what construction costs may be six months or a year from now on this project.”

This design also retains more of the park’s green space in that area.

“The real need for parking is on the east and west of the park and not in the middle of the park,” said Council Member Jaha Cummings. “We have to be very careful with that (balance). This (design) is probably one of the less evasive scenarios. We just can’t pave over the (whole) park.”

Funding for the project is also still being determined but one option would be from the city’s 1% local option sales tax, which is collected on taxable purchases to serve as funding for infrastructure projects.

The new design will be brought back before the City Council at a future meeting.


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