Increasing public access is the goal for a peninsula of city-owned land that borders the Municipal Marina and Boca Ciega Bay in Gulfport.
Right now, it is behind fences and is visited mostly by shore birds and birds of prey like ospreys. The birds will remain but soon, people will also become a regular part of the mix.
The peninsula is about 40 to 50 feet wide and nearly 450 feet long, said City Manager Jim O’Reilly.
Originally, in about 1954, it was dredged out to form a land break to protect the Boca Ciega Yacht Club (BCYC), said Municipal Marina Director Denis Frain.
On Tuesday, October 2, Gulfport City Council unanimously approved municipal budget monies and directed staff to apply for a Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) grant to fund the initial phases of a new waterfront park.
Known as the BCYC Breakwater Linear Park project in city documentation, it will be developed in up to four phases over time depending on funding. The scope of the project was originally proposed by Mayor Sam Henderson and city council members during the 2018-2019 fiscal year budget sessions based on previous public discussion meetings, said O’Reilly.
Phase One and Phase Two will take place during this fiscal year with an estimated cost of $210,532 coming from the city’s capital improvement budget.
For Phase One, Cardno Engineering, a national firm with offices in Tampa Bay, will develop, design and permit the project in addition to providing construction-monitoring services at a cost of $65,000, said O’Reilly. This is expected to take from 90 to 120 days.
“There is lots of time for input” from the council and the public, said Vice Mayor Christine Brown.
Additional input from residents, members of the nearby Lions Club and people who belong to water-based boat clubs that currently utilize the fenced-in area “are important factors,” said O’Reilly. “When we did our initial walk through, how to open the access, maintain security for the club and [provide] dry boat storage” were factors.
Dry boat storage is a revenue generator for the city “and we’re not going to do anything to harm that,” he said. “At the same time, we want to open up that [peninsula] area.”
The beach area used by boaters behind the Lions Club will not to be impacted by this project, said O’Reilly.
According to city documentation and staff, and after the council approves a bid for construction that includes proposed renderings, Phase Two will consist of creating public accessibility to the area and the building of small-scale linear docks and piers for bird watching and sunset observation along its Boca Ciega Bay shoreline similar to those that have already been added in the city’s 10-acre Clam Bayou Nature Park south of 29th Avenue South on Miriam Street.
The peninsula park “will be ADA accessible with benches here and there. And, low voltage LED bollard lighting to give it that nice look,” said Frain. “There will not be much fishing because of the shallow water.”
In addition, invasive exotic plant species such as Brazilian pepper will be removed from the peninsula and in the adjacent marina area, said Frain. “It would be as passive as possible without removing a lot and there would be nothing but mangroves left.”
Henderson agreed and said, “We don’t intend to de-tree that peninsula. It’s a good birding area.”
When funding becomes available, Phase Three could be the construction of a two-story scenic overlook tower with a tin roof including signage identifying the City of Gulfport along with the official name of the new park, when it is determined.
“I would really love to see this opened up for the public,” said Councilmember Paul Ray.
In what could become Phase Four with a total estimated cost of $200,000, councilmembers also directed city staff to seek grant funding from SWFWMD for the possible development of a living shoreline with native coastal grasses and the ability to grow oysters that attract fish. It could be eligible for the agency’s Cooperative Funding Initiative (CFI) program.
If approved, the CFI program would match one dollar for every non-federal dollar used in water quality and natural restoration projects. In the past, Gulfport has been successful in securing SWFWMD funding, most recently for the 49th Street Outfall project adjacent to the marina, said O’Reilly.
For more information about living shorelines in Florida, visit flseagrant.org/florida-living-shorelines.
If the city is successful in obtaining a CFI grant, the council will need to formally accept the funding along with any associated municipal budget amendments for the park’s water quality and natural restoration components.
“It’s such a nice area that right now, you don’t have [public] access to at all,” said Henderson. “It’s a fantastic view out across that stretch of the bay [west] toward the channel in the direction of The Don CeSar. [It will] give people the ability to enjoy a nice piece of property with a little solitude.”