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Sunday, Apr 22, 2018
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SunWest Park faces funding challenge

ARIPEKA — Pasco Commission Chairman Jack Mariano and county staffers are scrambling to find a way to squeeze $8.3 million worth of construction work into a $4.2 million budget to build the planned SunWest Park on schedule this year.

It will take some serious negotiations, creative financing and calling in a really big favor. “I’m optimistic we can make it all fly,” Mariano said.

The future SunWest park and wakeboarding facility is his baby. He has called it the jewel of Pasco County and the key to redeveloping the U.S. 19 corridor. And when he brought members of the county’s tourist development council to the park site before Christmas, he confidently assured them the park would be open by Memorial Day and hosting national beach volleyball tournaments by next year.

Well, last week’s bid opening bought a harsh reality check when only one company, David Nelson Construction of Palm Harbor, submitted the sole bid and it came in at almost double the county’s $4.6 million cost budget.

“My first gut reaction was to scrap it and put it back out to bid,” Mariano said. But that was before he met with Project Manager Roberto Saez, who said the high bid won’t necessarily stall the park project.

Saez said the bid package was structured so certain elements could be removed or added depending on how the bids came in. “The strategy was to build flexibility into the bid document,” Saez said.

The first phase included the new entrance off U.S. 19, constructing beaches on the south and west shores of the lake and building a 500-space parking lot. Saez hoped the bid would come in under budget, and the county would have money left over to accelerate some features that were planned for the park’s second phase — such as the splash park.

But since the bid came in over budget, one solution might be to replace the asphalt parking lot with unpaved parking. Saez said savings from the reduced paving could be applied to build out the beaches on the north and south shore of the Sunwest lake. There should still be enough money in the budget to pay for all of the utilities and public restrooms.

“We’re playing with all the options at this point,” Saez said. “We are going to build it — for sure.”

It may end up working the county’s advantage that Nelson was the sole bidder, because it puts them in a position to be able to negotiate on pricing.

Mariano said he doesn’t want to “build half a park.” So he’s hoping Gary Grubb, developer of the adjoining SunWest Harbourtowne project, will donate services to offset the cost of the beach construction. “He built the beaches on his lake and he did a fantastic job, so I’m going to call in a favor,” Mariano said. “I still think we can get the whole park done this year. ”

The county is negotiating with Orlando-based wake park designer Pat Panakos to install a cable system and run the concessions and lifeguard services. In an interview Friday, Panakos said he’s comfortable with most of the language in the lease agreement.

“We’re working day and night to finish, and we’re hoping to come back to Pasco next week to meet with the staff,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of research since our last meeting. The maintenance isn’t an issue for us, and our insurance companies are comfortable with the programs we’ve put together for the lifeguarding.”

Commissioner Ted Schrader said sealing the deal with Panakos is just as critical as negotiating the construction pricing. “We do have money for (operations and maintenance,)” he said. “We all want to get it built, but we’re not going to build it if we can’t maintain it.”

The park master plan calls for later phases with a boardwalk with restaurants, shops and an amphitheater. Panakos said his future plans include a high ropes course, zip line and inflatable play area.

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