The City of Boca Raton often refers to itself as a “City within a Park”. But how this all came to be presents a very compelling story of the need, foresight and cooperation between our local elected bodies.
It began in 1973 when members of the City Council, joined together by community leaders and members of the County Commission and State Legislature agreed to form a special independent taxing district, known as the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District. The initial primary function was to give the District ad valorem taxing powers which would be utilized to reimburse the City for the cost of acquisition and development of what is known as Red Reef Park. This cooperative effort was very fortuitous and has provided the foundation for our City truly being a “City within a Park”.
The initial relationship for Red Reef Park has proved successful from its inception. We have seen development of one of the most beautiful beaches in the State of Florida, together with nationally recognized amenities such as the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center.
Today the continued cooperative efforts of the City and the District have provided our community with recreational resources for over forty years.
Recognizing the success of the initial establishment of the District, in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the City, County, and the District collaborated to satisfy the need for additional park properties. Through this further cooperative effort of our elected officials the District and Palm Beach County, entered an agreement for the acquisition of Patch Reef Park. Through the cooperative effort of the City and the District, the District acquired Patch Reef Park and the District constructed the improvements which exist at the facility today.
In the late 1980’s, it again became apparent that the growth of our community necessitated additional recreational facilities. The City Council and the Commission of the District, once again joined in a cooperative effort making it possible for the District to acquire 132 acres of raw land, now known as Sugar Sand Park. Thereafter, the entirety of the development of Sugar Sand Park, utilizing recommendations of the City Recreational Services Department, were constructed by the District entirely with District funds. If you have not had the opportunity to visit Sugar Sand Park, it is a worthwhile excursion, not only for you to see what amenities are being provided by the District and the City to all of the residents of the District, but to understand what cooperative efforts between two elected bodies can achieve.
These cooperative efforts did not cease with the completion of improvements at Sugar Sand Park. To preserve further development along the beaches of the City, the District was called upon by the City to make an acquisition of what is known as Ocean Strand. At that time, Ocean Strand was the last remaining parcel of land stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Intracoastal Waterway. Today, the site remains vacant waiting for the next generation of residents of the District to determine the best and proper use for this property.
As time passed, the relationship between the City and the District and the spirit of cooperation remained. The District, at the request of the Via Verde Homeowner’s Association, stepped in to acquire what is now known as the Swim and Racquet Center to prevent the property from being developed and to maintain park and recreational facilities for what is now the central area of the City.
Importantly, the City and District then jointly created the Spanish River Athletic Facility of 70 acres.
This cooperative effort successfully continues today with the District and the City being parties to an agreement whereby the City maintains and operates all facilities of the District and the District reimburses all expenses associated with those City activities.
Although there have been comments that prior cooperative efforts between the elected bodies of the City Council and the District Commission are now lacking nothing can be further from the truth. Within the last two to three years the City and the District have entered into an agreement whereby the District will assume 50% of the cost of all of the Beach Renourishment being done on the entirety of the beaches of the City.
The two elected bodies are currently engaged in the development of a master agreement to simplify the operation and maintenance responsibilities of the City and the payment of the District for such services, as well as a Master Plan for Renovation of Red Reef Park.
The parties are also engaged in discussions, not only for the maintenance of prior projects, but the future of this community. In particular at issue, are cooperative efforts for the future expansion of the Spanish River Athletic Facilities located on Spanish River Boulevard. It is hoped that an agreement can be reached whereby much needed additional facilities will be constructed at District expense on City property to supplement the initial phase of the Spanish River Athletic Facility which was completed in 2012.
As you drive around our great City you cannot help but be impressed at the quality and scope of the park improvements that have been made in the community. It has been done through a spirit of cooperation between the City of Boca Raton and the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District. It is essential that this cooperation continue as the foresight of our leaders in the early 1970’s has provided benefits far beyond those which were originally anticipated by the community leaders in 1973. This relationship is unique to the State of Florida and it is one which has enhanced the quality of life for all past, present and future residents of our community.
But the growth of our community is placing additional burdens on both the City and the District. The spirit of cooperation between the two elected bodies is capable of solving these problems and both parties are willing to step forward to achieve those results. Currently, the District is awaiting authorization from the City to begin Phase II at the Spanish River Athletic Facility Complex, an improvement which is much needed for adult and youth active sports participants in the community. To alleviate some of the demands that are being placed on the existing facilities, the District has entered into agreements with Florida Atlantic University and the School Board of Palm Beach County. These agreements provide an opportunity for an economically beneficial development of recreational facilities. Utilizing property owned by both Florida Atlantic University and the School Board of Palm Beach County, together with the financing of the District for improvements, recreational facilities have been, and are being, developed on the campus of Florida Atlantic University for use by both students and members of the community. The same is true with regard to the School Board of Palm Beach County. The School Board has made available certain properties and the District has entered into agreements for development of those properties for the use and benefit of those attending local schools and for use by the community at large. This type of governmental cooperation is very special in today’s society. We do not often see the willingness of elected bodies to join hands for the betterment of a community as a whole but these agencies, the City, the District, Florida Atlantic University and the School Board have all realized that cooperation is the key to providing the quality of life that we all enjoy.
However, the task is not over and additional facilities are being considered by all parties. At Sugar Sand Park, the District currently has a field house for use by participants for basketball, volleyball and other indoor activities. But charitable and community activities such as Boca Hoops have seen remarkable growth and participants in their youth activities. Today, the Boca Hoops group has 1500 participants thus necessitating additional facilities. Recognizing this need, the District is engaged in a design of an additional field house at Sugar Sand Park to alleviate this problem as both Boca Hoops and community participation grow at a remarkable rate. The City and the District are also engaged in discussions for the expansion of the much needed Phase II at the Spanish River Athletic Facility. Hopefully, the cooperative effort of these two bodies will continue to allow such development.
The District also embarked upon a renovation of the Swim and Racquet Center on St. Andrews Boulevard. The City has approved all of the appropriate land use requirements for this project and the project is anticipated to completely renovate and improve the Swim and Racquet Club for the benefit of the entire community. Construction of this project is expected to commence within the first six months of 2017.
The District is also currently completing what is known as the Sugar Sand Park Science Playground, a facility built with community labor over 22 years ago. Through the impetus of certain individuals in the community, the District undertook the renovation of this project which will ultimately result in a total rebuild of the Science Playground and will allow for the first time in this community, a facility which is fully handicap accessible for use by people of all abilities and all ages. The District anticipates a ribbon cutting of this facility within the next 60 days.
A new agreement between the District and Florida Atlantic University will provide a much needed outdoor recreational area for the soccer program within the City. The District will provide money for improvement and Florida Atlantic University will provide the land for the project. This type of an arrangement between these two entities has been ongoing for the past 25 years making affective use of the capabilities of both the University and the District.
The District is also reviewing the Master Plan for a complete renovation of Patch Reef Park.
Most recently, the District and the City have discussed a cooperative effort should the golf course, known as Ocean Breeze, be acquired by the City. This is just another example of what cooperation between elected bodies can accomplish.
When you take your Saturday or Sunday drive around the community and see the facilities that exist, please be reminded that these facilities are there and are maintained in the quality that you observe only through the cooperation of the City and the District. No one person is responsible for these facilities existing in our City. They are here because a group of people have agreed to sit down to discuss what is in the best interest of the community and to provide facilities to make Boca Raton the “City within a Park”. It is essential that these dicussions and communications continue and it is essential that the elected officials of the District and the City, continue to have the foresight of those who in early 1970’s created the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District. This District provides many amenities and facilities that are currently being used by all segments of our community, both young and old. It is not necessary that you in any way honor elected officials for what has been done because that is the function they assume when they become an elected official. Rather, simply understand that these facilitiies have been provided based upon cooperation between the City Council and the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District Commission and let us all do what we can to have this cooperation continue.