PUNTA GORDA — Charlotte County’s “first snowbird” will be getting a bit of a makeover at Ponce de Leon Park in Punta Gorda.
The Royal Order of Ponce de Leon Conquistadors out of Charlotte County recently donated a new bronze bust of Juan Ponce de Leon to Punta Gorda as part of the city’s ongoing renovations at the park, which was established in the 1970s.
“You can debate from now until whenever of exactly where (Ponce landed) but the suspicion is that it’s around this Charlotte Harbor area,” said Kent Kretzler, Conquistador chairman at a Nov. 4 City Council meeting.
The Conquistadors were formed in the late 1970s to commemorate the Spanish explorer for his discovery of Florida and landing on the shores of Charlotte Harbor in 1513 and attempting to establish a colony somewhere on Charlotte Harbor in 1521.
“I can honestly say that he was the very first snowbird,” Kretzler said, referring to northerners who move to the area during winter months.
The current statues of Ponce de Leon at the park, located at 3400 Ponce de Leon Parkway, have been around for decades and, like the park, have become somewhat worn over the years.
“Some of the relics that we have from the ’70s tell the story (of Ponce) at today’s park and some of them possibly need a little updating,” Kretzler said. “Some things that are there might need a little refreshing.
“So one of the reasons why we are looking at (the bust) and the monument is to try to bring an update to the park along with the plans that you all have to make it bigger and better.”
The concept came about in 2018 but has been on delay due to the uncertainty of the park’s redesign project, according to city documents.
In the meantime, the Conquistadors have been moving forward with plans for the production of the bronze bust based on the statue of Ponce de Leon in Gilchrist Park on West Retta Esplanade in Punta Gorda, which was also added due to contributions from the Conquistadors.
Tentative plans for the Ponce bust are to attach it to an almost 7-foot tall concrete and granite monument that would sit near the entry of park.
No timeline for installation of the monument or the bust has been developed yet, according to City Communications Manager Melissa Reichert.
“The only active project at Ponce Park is the seawall (repairs) and pier maintenance,” Reichert told the Sun.
Kretzler said one of the Conquistadors’ goals in the community is to bring the area’s local history to life.
“We’re trying to enhance the park,” he said, “and trying to make it into something of a ‘wow’ factor.”