POINCIANA – Having a public park in the neighborhood might not sound like something crucial, Nick Murdock said, but in reality it actually can be, particularly if it provides the fuel that helps spur more business growth in the area, he added.
“The park starts the momentum going,” said Murdock, who lives on the Polk County side of Poinciana at the Solivita development. “If we get only this small piece of park down there, any professional developer is going to look at this and say ‘Obviously, the county doesn’t care about this community much, so why should I go here?’ But if we get the entire park, then they will want to invest there. So it’s not just the park. There’s so many ramifications for the community. Getting the park down there is a springboard to everything else.”
Murdock is the chairman of the Poinciana Economic Development Alliance, formed last summer with the goal of bringing more businesses, jobs, social services and educational opportunities to the community of 84,000 residents that cuts across Polk and Osceola counties.
One of the goals has been to bring more services and amenities to the Polk County side of Poinciana, including the completion of a proposed park there.
Right now, Polk County has about $4.3 million in funding available for the first phase of the construction work on this park. The total cost of the project would be about $7 million.
But it will be constructed in two phases, likely over a five year period, which the PEDA members say is too long to wait.
“There are 31,360 residents in Poinciana, Polk County, and there is not one entity of any kind there – nothing,” Murdock said. “No gas station, no convenient store, let alone the other services people need down there.”
In an effort to jump start the project, Murdock has sent out a letter to Polk County’s municipal leaders, urging them to consider turning over the project to a group of private investors from Chicago – or speeding up the county’s work schedule on it.
Murdock wrote in the letter that it’s become clear that once the first phase has been done, “There are no additional funds in any future Polk County budget to cover the remainder of the construction.”
A group of private investors in Chicago, who have shown an interest in Poinciana’s future development, have offered to finance the project, Murdock wrote.
“They are willing to provide the capital for the entire Poinciana Park,” he wrote. “To wait will greatly escalate the cost, and further disparage the residents …. the 31,390 residents of Poinciana, Polk County have no recreational or commercial facilities and no middle or high school. Their waiting time needs to be over. We need your immediate endorsement and vote to make this happen. If this were Lakeland, Winter Haven, Bartow or Auburndale, I would not need to importune.”
The new park will be built in Village 7. Phase one on the 28-acre park that will be constructed in multiple stages, and is expected to eventually include four baseball and softballs fields, three football-sized multi-purpose fields, a dog park, and two concession stands and restroom facilities. Phase one is expected to take about nine months to complete. The initial construction work will include the creation of access roads to the park, a parking lot, electric, water and wastewater services, a storm water retention pond, and field lighting for night use of the baseball and softball fields. The new park is going to be located right off State Road 542.
Polk County Commissioner R. Todd Danztler, whose district includes Poinciana, said he thinks the park could very likely get built ahead of the five year schedule, particularly if the economy picks up.
“It should be starting fairly soon,” Dantzler said, adding that the completion date for phase one is early next year, in January or February.
The schedule for phase two isn’t set in stone yet and could be accelerated if the county’s financial picture improves, Dantzler said.
“I think it can,” he said. “If the economy picks up and money increases, yes — we can.”
Murdock, though, said Polk County needs to demonstrate that it is concerned about all of its residents, including the ones in Poinciana.
“I’ve had a couple of people say they’re satisfied that something is better than nothing,” Murdock said. “But the vast majority of everybody realizes even though we need to get this portion done, having just one ball field actually causes more problems than not having any at all. Who is going to play on one field? There are 10,000 kids there under the age of 18.”
Murdock said the Chicago consortium, a group of financial investors from the Windy City who reached out to him last fall, are willing to finance the project, assuming they get the approval from Polk County commissioners to take it over.
“We have an investment group. They will pay for the park,” Murdock said. “The county saves money and gets this done Most of all, the people in south Poinciana get a park for the 10,000 kids there, rather than nothing. To me, it’s a very easy fix, and a big win for everybody. I don’t see any downside to it at all.”
But so far, Murdock said, Polk County leaders have been slow to respond to this idea.
“We’ve talked to county officials about this, so this isn’t new,” Murdock said. We’ve been presenting this option to them for four or five months, but they were committed to do this entire park.”
Dantlzer said Polk commissioners are committed to getting this park built, and are interested in helping their Poinciana residents – which is why they agreed to help finance construction on a new toll road in Poinciana, called the Poinciana Parkway, which would cut through both Osceola and Polk counties. Osceola County is shouldering the bulk of the construction costs.
“The fact that some people say there’s no commitment to Poinciana is false,” Dantzler said, “and it doesn’t do anything to further this discussion. Investments are being made on the Polk County side— not as much as they want, and I understand that, but finances and resources are tight now. But we have done a sidewalk program there, and we’ve made roadway and intersection improvements. There are some people who, we can’t satisfy their timeline. And that’s frustrating, but we’re doing the best that we can.”
Murdock said he plans to start meeting with residents of Poinciana’s Village 7 to build public support for getting this project moving.
“We’re going to keep pursuing this and getting more community involvement,” he said. “We have meetings down in Village 7 scheduled, and we want to get as many community groups as possible involved. Let’s do it now. We just have to say ‘Look, we can do this, we can get it done. But nobody is willing to make the first move on it.”