NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County officials have found the money to complete the first phase of SunWest Park in Aripeka this year.
County commissioners delayed a vote on the $4.5 million park last month because even after rebidding the park, it came in more than $1 million over budget. That’s when Chairman Jack Mariano asked the staff to research whether the county could apply tourist tax revenue and money in the county’s tree replacement fund to offset the costs.
“When we open this park, we have one chance to make a first impression,” Mariano said.
During an emergency meeting Monday morning, the county’s Tourist Development Council unanimously endorsed a proposal to allocate $973,000 of tourist tax revenue for the park.
Assistant County Attorney Elizabeth Blair explained that the statute governing tourist taxes makes a special allowance to spend the money on beaches and beach park facilities. Based on that understanding, she suggested the county apply the tourist tax dollars to buy high-quality sand that would make the park eligible for professional beach volleyball. The sand is expected to cost about $950,000.
“We have to make sure we get the sand you can dive into. It’s not the same sand you buy when you go to Lowe’s and buy a bag of sand,” tourism director Ed Caum said. “It has a higher silica content, so it’s less abrasive and it doesn’t get as hot.”
County Administrator Michele Baker said the county also has nearly $120,000 available in its tree replacement fund, some of which could be applied toward landscaping costs at the park.
Adding the tourism and the tree money to the $3.4 million already earmarked for the park would bring the total available funding for the project to nearly $4.6 million — enough to complete phase one as well as build a boardwalk and a 3,000-square-foot splash park for children.
But the tourism council didn’t stop there. Several members questioned the county’s recommendation to include only one set of restrooms in the park’s first phase. The plan calls for a restrooms at the park’s south beach, but the restrooms near the splash pad and cable park aren’t budgeted until phase two.
Dade City Mayor Camille Hernandez said it isn’t practical to expect families with young kids at the splash park to walk the entire length of the park to get to a restroom. The council recommended the county spend the extra money to install both sets of restrooms in phase one.
The park contract is expected to go back to county commissioners on May 20.