Palmetto's MLK Park to be a place to learn about leaders, environment

mjohnson@bradenton.comJanuary 21, 2014 

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The first shovels full of dirt officially break ground for Palmetto's new Martin Luther King, Jr. Park. MATT M. JOHNSON/THE HERALD

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PALMETTO -- A one-year delay in the construction schedule for a park named for civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. turned out to be an opportunity Monday.

The delay allowed city and county leaders, residents, and park planners to kick off a revamped construction schedule on the day of the King holiday, officially breaking ground at the 5.3-acre park adjacent to the Carr Drain. The new schedule projects an August finish date.

The event celebrated a project that the city envisions to echo King's vision. Located behind the Palmetto Youth Center on 17th St. W., the new park will be marketed as a place where residents can both learn about King and outstanding Palmetto citizens, as well as storm water treatment.

The park will also feature increased security in an area known for criminal activity.

Charles Smith, Palmetto's Ward 1 commissioner, said during the ground breaking that he looks forward to the day when children can walk the park's paths and read about civil rights and community leaders on monuments placed throughout.

"A lot of people know about Dr. King, but they didn't know what he stood or what position he held," he said. "He was more than a Baptist minister. He was a spokesman for America and for all people."

The park is a multifacet

ed project intended to solve a number of ills in that area of the city. The wooded property has long been known as a place where criminal activity takes place, and where criminal suspects avoiding capture could hide. When finished, it will be lit a night, will feature a security camera system, and will see regular police patrols, according to city Police Chief Rick Wells.

The park will also be a rare piece of green space in the middle of an area where the city's residential, recreational, and downtown retail districts collide. Smith noted that it has long attracted children. When he was a child himself, Smith and his friends walked through the future park daily, often playing hide-and-seek.

The $1.2 million construction project will add ponds, trees and trails to the stream-like Carr Drain, enhancing both its walkability and its usefulness for storm water drainage.

Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant said she sees the park as a destination for city residents.

"We're just so hopeful this will be a nice attraction for the community," she said during Monday's ground breaking.

The event drew a small, but diverse crowd. Willie Davis, a city resident who has kept track of the park's development, said he's pleased that the city's children will have a place to learn about Martin Luther King, Jr.

"This will teach young kids a lot of things they never knew," he said.

The project is funded in part by a $500,000 Southwest Florida Water Management District grant. The city and the Palmetto Community Development Agency will match those funds. The project is also expected to receive a $200,000 grant from the federal RESTORE grant program, said Jeff Burton, director of the CRA.

The ponds to be built at the park are planned to act as filters for the Carr Drain, which empties into the Manatee River. Water from the drain will flow slowly through the ponds, depositing silt, fertilizers, and other contaminants before they can reach the river.

Plants in the ponds will absorb the contaminants, keeping the pond water clean.

The ponds are intended to be the first step toward restoring a wetland that was once on the property, Burton said.

Michael Gallen, the Manatee County Commissioner whose district includes Palmetto, attended Monday's event. He said he's pleased it will benefit both people and the environment.

"Any time we can add green space to an urban core, it's a win-win," he said.

Sarasota construction company Stellar Development will build the park.

Matt. M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.

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