DAVENPORT – Public parks are supposed to be all about recreation – finding an enjoyable place to play sports, walk or jog, or go boating.
That’s exactly what the new recreational park on U.S. 27 in Davenport, which opens in June, will be about: providing more recreational options in fast-growing Northeast Polk County and for the Four Corners area residents. There are no businesses that operate within an area set aside for relaxation and outdoor activities.
When Polk County officials hold a grand opening ceremony for the park next month, a local business group is hoping to take advantage of this event, and the celebration of this new service for the Four Corners area, by setting up booths there and letting the people know what kind of companies operate near this new park.
“We would love some local businesses to get involved,” said Scott Smith, pastor of the Community of Faith United Methodist Church in Davenport. “I stepped up on that, to see if we have some businesses we can get involved.”
Smith also chairs the community awareness subcommittee for the Four Corners Area Council, a group of business owners in the Four Corners area who meet once a month to network and organize events in the area. The council held its monthly meeting on Thursday at ChampionsGate Golf Resort.
Their aim is to connect business owners with area residents who decide to attend the grand opening ceremony on Saturday, June 16 at 9:30 a.m. The 81 acres of land off U.S. 27 next door to the Bass Lake development is being constructed in two phases as a public park and recreation area for the entire region – a region where there are plenty of residential subdivisions, but few if any public recreation fields.
The park is about 1.2 miles south of the Lake County line on U.S. 27, and phase one has included developing fields that will be used for soccer and football, constructing tennis courts, and putting in a boat ramp, sports field, concession stands and public lighting.
Michael Callender, Polk County’s parks and recreation manager, said the new park, which is being called Northeast Regional Park, is ready for the grand opening.
“This is phase one we’re completing as we speak,” he said. “We have no funding at this time for phase two.”
As a result, there’s no schedule or timeline for phase two, Callender said.
But he did say the grand opening ceremony would be designed to educate residents on all the amenities that the new park offers.
“We’re looking for a lacrosse and basketball presence there at the grand opening,” Callender said. “We want to show this is an active sports park with active fields.”
The Four Corners Area Council, which has been lobbying for the public park for much of the past eight years, sees a lot to celebrate in that grand opening.
But with the regional economy still struggling to shake off the impact of an economic downturn, Smith and the other council members said having a business presence at the grand opening ceremony benefits the entire region, because it allows more local residents to know what kind of companies are in their back yard.
If they patronize those businesses more often, the comanies – and the local economy – do better, the council members noted.
“I’ve had a lot of our corporate members ask about this,” said council member Mary Ellen Kerber, who is also the manager of the Formosa Gardens shopping plaza on U.S. 192 in Four Corners.
“This could be a great event,” said Gene Terrico, the chairman of the Four Corners Area Council, about the opening of the park.
Smith said he approached officials at Polk County’s Parks and Recreation Department about allowing some businesses to attend the event.
“They were caught off guard by the community desire to get involved,” Smith said. “They were planning on a smaller grand opening.”
He added that there was also something of a territorial issue, since the Four Corners Area Council operates under the umbrella of the Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce. Four Corners is where U.S. 27 and U.S. 192 meet, and where four counties – Lake, Orange, Osceola and Polk – come together. But it was the Osceola County chamber that started a regional council for businesses operating in Four Corners, even if those businesses were in Lake, Orange or Polk counties.
Northeast Polk County is also represented separately by the Haines City/Northeast Polk County Chamber of Commerce, and the Davenport Chamber of Commerce.
Smith said even though the Four Corners Area Council has business owners from all four counties – including Polk – they are still considered to be an Osceola County business entity.
“I’ll be blunt, this park is in Polk County,” Smith said. “I don’t know if Four Corners-Osceola can go in there.”
Smith said he’s hopeful they can demonstrate that this council is representative of the entire Four Corners region, including U.S. 27 in Northeast Polk County, which is where the new park is located.
“I think they’re going to work with us, even though I told them we’re the Four Corners council from Osceola County,” he said.
Callender said he plans to send invitations to the members of the Four Corners Area Council to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony.
“We’ll be sending invitations to all of them,” he said. “We definitely want them to attend.”
But the focus, he added, would be on what the park has to offer.
“We want to have a ribbon cutting, and then get everyone to start using the park,” Callender said.
The council members have been pushing aggressively for this park since 2003, saying it’s badly needed in a fast growing area that is lacking in some basic services — recreational programs included.
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