Bill Foster, Jim Kennedy break ground at St. Pete’s newest “destination” park

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The recently demolished Rio Vista Elementary School began its next phase as St. Petersburg’s 8-acre “destination” park, in a groundbreaking ceremony Friday morning.

Mayor Bill Foster joined City Council Members Jim Kennedy, Steve Kornell, Wengay Newton, Bill Dudley and a group of city officials to turn the first shovels of earth in the city’s newest park. Among the 60 people attending the event was Pinellas County School District Superintendent Michael A. Grego, Board Member Peggy O’Shea, as well as residents of the northwestern Riviera Bay neighborhood.

 “Welcome to ‘Jim Kennedy Park,’,” Foster said. Kennedy was instrumental in developing Rio Vista Park in his district, by working with both the city and the Pinellas County School Board on the school’s replacement.

“The reason this works,” Foster added, “is that the land was paid for with your money. To close the school and not return the land back to the people for reuse was something that was … unpalatable.”

The $1.6 million for the demolition of the school and construction of the park is through the Park Preservation Fund, referred to as the Weeki Wachee Special Revenue Fund. Financing for the fund came from $14.4 million the City of St. Petersburg collected from the 1999 sale of the 440-acre Weeki Wachee Springs.

Voters approved the grant only for developing, building and maintaining parks in the City of St. Petersburg. The City Council approved allocating Weeki Wachee funds for the Rio Vista Park, as well as the resources to maintain the facility for 10 years.

The final version of the park to be built by St. Petersburg –based Lema Construction, sits off 83rd Avenue, between Macoma Drive NE and Siquita Drive NE in the northeast section of St. Pete.

Amenities that will make Rio Vista a “destination” for the entire city include tennis and basketball courts, a playground, fitness area and event/picnic shelters. On the Siquita Drive side, there will be a “passive natural area,” with native plants, a “primitive” trail and a bat house.

“It’s a real exciting day for me,” Kennedy said. “To be able to keep this place as a centerpiece for this neighborhood is something that I’m really proud of.”

According to Kennedy, the new park will open sometime in the spring of 2014.

Dave and Donna Hoover have been two of the most enthusiastic advocates of the development and construction of Rio Vista Park. Dave Hoover is president of the Riviera Bay Homeowner Association.

“Councilman Kennedy fought really hard for this park,” Hoover said as he offered to donate the $1 annual lease payment the school district will receive each year for the next 50 years to use the land.  

“It couldn’t go to a more deserving neighborhood,” Hoover said to applause.

“We’ve already got the volunteers signed up for the Adopt-a-Park,” Hoover added. “It will be the best amenity of this district, ever.”

Rio Vista Plan (Small)

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.