Downtown Zephyrhills could have its own “Backyard.”

New park planned at 6th Avenue and 8th Street

Downtown Zephyrhills could have its own “Backyard.”

The Zephyrhills Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) approved a $68,400 expenditure for design services for a downtown open-air park called, “The Backyard” to be built on the lot on the southwest corner of Eighth Street and Sixth Avenue.

The plans dub the project as the “Little, But Loud” park and will ultimately cost the CRA $250,000. Included in the plans are covered seating under teepee-like structures, repurposed metal storage containers as vendor spaces, a stage, lighting, an event screen, plus service from food trucks.

CRA Director Gail Hamilton reported that in an effort to make the downtown district more than three blocks on Fifth Avenue, a connection was needed to Sixth Avenue. An alley and Eighth Street would connect “The Backyard” to Fifth Avenue.

Months ago, Zephyrhills City Council President Alan Knight pointed out that the city lacks a place for younger people to gather. Knight said the teens in Zephyrhills get together in the parking lots of closed businesses, but they deserve better.

“The Backyard” could be the answer. Or could it?

Hamilton said the new park would be suitable for teenagers, mom and tots and adults.

Councilman Lance Smith noted that he believes that once the project is complete, there will be requests to host events at the park where alcohol will be sold.

“Somebody is going to come to us and want to do beer or wine,” Smith said. “If you have music, it is a natural thing to have beer or wine with it. We need to think about that too.”

Hamilton said there has been discussion on the subject where opportunities could be given to local businesses could sell beer in “The Backyard.”

Knight chimed in quickly, “You said in your presentation that it would be a place for young people to go. I don’t want alcohol out there.”

Hamilton said there would be events scheduled specifically for kids at certain times. “You may see alcohol sales on a Friday or Saturday night,” she said.

“They don’t want a place to go for events,” Knight said. “I’m talking about a place where they can go after football games or something. I was under the impression that this is a place they could go anytime.”

City Manager Billy Poe intervened to assure that alcohol sales issue will be addressed.

“I know your stance on alcohol,” Poe said to Knight. I know Councilman Smith’s stance on alcohol as well. That is definitely a conversation we need to have and as the downtown grows, it’s a conversation we’ll have about having a possible wet zone. That is something we will talk about down the road.”

Knight asked if the city had the $250,000 for the new park and the funds needed for the reconstruction of Hercules Park.

Poe assured him the CRA had “The Backyard” funding budgeted and the city has $1 million budgeted in the general fund for 2021-22 park improvements.

“I have a problem with $68,000 in planning,” said Knight, who eventually approved the expenditure after he received assurances from Hamilton that the CRA budget had sufficient funds in it.

Knight kept the pressure on Hamilton expressing his displeasure that the CRA Board heard a presentation two years ago about a grand plan to re-imagine the 50-care Zephyr Park and nothing was done since the presentation.

“Those plans are rolled up on a shelf because the money wasn’t there to do a 50-acre park,” Hamilton said. “At the time, the CRA didn’t have the money to even look at trying to fund something like Zephyr Park.”

She noted that the CRA generates more funds each year. Possibly next year, the CRA could go out for a bond to cover the Zephyr Park project.

“We did all this with Zephyr Park. We paid a lot of money to get it all designed and come to find out we didn’t have the money,” Knight said. “I want to make sure we have the money and that city is going to be OK.”

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