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‘Vast needs of the community:’ $123M St. Johns County plan moves forward to build parks, libraries

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — The St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) unanimously decided to move forward with an estimated $123 million plan to construct five regional parks and community centers.

The plan also includes consideration of a library in Nocatee. Library hubs in the central (Shearwater) community park and northwest (Greenbriar) park are also part of the approved plan.

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The next step will be for the County Administrator to assemble a financing team to present a financing package to the county commissioners at a future meeting.

“With this regional park plan combined with previous financial commitments to parks, St. Johns County will have a five-year investment of more than $200 million into county-wide parks and recreation facilities to support an array of programs and services,” the county said in a statement.

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The county also said that construction of the five-park campus is expected to begin in 2024 and be completed by the end of 2026.

A summary of the projects and their costs include:

  • Northeast Community Park ($43M): Fields for baseball, softball, and multipurpose uses, pickleball and sand volleyball courts, splash pad, picnic pavilions, and a community center with indoor space to support the Supervisor of Elections and a full-service Public Library branch.
  • Central Sportsplex ($42M): Five multipurpose fields with synthetic turf fields, three natural grass multipurpose fields, areas designated for tailgating, ticketing and food trucks, and grandstands with a press box.
  • Central Community Park ($13M): Indoor space for recreational programs and to support the Supervisor of Elections and St. Johns County Public Library System services, courts for pickleball and basketball, a recreational field, a splash pad, and two playgrounds.
  • Northwest Community Park ($22.4M): Fields for baseball and softball, courts for pickleball and sand volleyball, a community center with a designated area for library services, and picnic pavilions.
  • Davis Park Turf Fields ($3M): Conversion of softball fields to baseball and to turf fields, and additional parking amenities.

The county also mentioned that they won’t use property tax revenue to pay for construction.

“It is important to note that no property taxes will be used to pay the cost of construction of these parks. Instead we will look to use a combination of existing accumulated impact fees paid by developments­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ and a debt issuance to fund a Commission-approved program. St. Johns County has solid credit ratings of Moody’s Aaa and S&P AA+. We will service the debt using impact fees, tourism tax dollars, and recurring State remitted revenue.”

—  Jesse Dunn, Budget Director

“This is generational changing for St. Johns County,” Ryan Kane, St. Johns County Director of Parks and Recreation, said. “This is something that kids will be participating in playing on 30 years from now, families will be gathering at those sites for many generations.”

While the project promises to bring improvements in recreation across the county, local club soccer coach Patrick Casey is raising the red flag, outlining that often these spaces are swooped up instantly by club sports, limiting the amount of kids who can truly use it as public space.

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“There’s times where I’ve wanted to rent the field space, and I can’t, because the county says, ‘Hey, we’re holding off because we know a club likes to rent this,’” Casey said. “It’s good for clubs, but it’s not good for the local kids and citizens who are looking to just utilize that field space.”

Kane gives reassurance that these parks will stay open to the public.

“We’ve heard from our public and intentionally worked through the design to develop spaces for public recreation,” Kane said. “In fact, one of the four parks is completely for public recreation and is not Club’s board or youth sports.”

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