Alpine Groves Park in St Johns | Steven Browning

St. Johns County spends big on parks

Published on April 2, 2024 at 5:42 pm

A growing county needs places for people to play and enjoy the outdoors, and that’s why the St. Johns County Commission on Tuesday approved a sweeping multimillion dollar plan to build new parks and expand an existing recreational area. Construction could begin as soon as this year on four new parks in the northwest area of the county.

The five-year plan allocates more than $200 million worth of developer-paid impact fees, federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, grant money and borrowed dollars to build a 40-acre sporting hub and three other parks ranging in size from 10 to 50 acres. As planned, the projects won’t use a cent of property taxes. The new parks are projected to amount to $123 million in spending, with ongoing renovations to parks making up the remainder of the $200 million.

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St. Johns County staff estimates approximately $97 million will be borrowed to finance the remaining cost, with impact fees and state funds going to pay off the debt over time.

This graphic shows where St. Johns County’s four newly approved parks will be located. | St. Johns County.

More than 20 speakers urged the County Commission to approve the projects, including Creeks Athletic Association President Chuck Forcier. 

“This is exactly what the county needs to continue to be the awesome county we are,” he said.

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Forcier said he wished he could be a kid again to enjoy the new offerings. Working in athletics, Forcier said he has seen local organizations have to boot one another out because there aren’t enough fields. 

Ponte Vedra Girls Softball Inc. President Eugene Wilson says his organization has been forced to turn girls away because they simply lacked the space to accommodate all of the kids who want to play softball. 

The new parks will help solve that problem, Wilson said. His 10-year-old daughter, Landry Wilson, also addressed the county commission to share her support for the new parks.

“There’s so many more memories to be made,” she said. “We just need the space.”

The proposed construction timeline for St. Johns County’s four new parks and additions to the existing Davis Park in Ponte Vedra Beach.

Here’s a breakdown of what each project is expected to bring to St. Johns County

Central St. Johns Sportsplex

This 40-acre park will bring more space to play sports in northwest St. Johns. Plans include three multipurpose grass fields, up to five multipurpose turf fields, a running track, space for food trucks and a grandstand. 

Projected cost: $42 million

Central St. Johns Community Park $13.0

This 10-acre park includes plans for up to eight pickleball courts and two outdoor basketball courts as well as a covered basketball court, a splash pad and two playgrounds. The park’s indoor space will also offer a Supervisor of Elections Office and library services. 

Projected cost: $13 million 

Northwest Community Park

This 63-acre park includes plans for up to four baseball/softball fields and six pickleball courts as well as a playground, a walking path and picnic area. Additional space on the property is planned for a community center that will include library services.

Projected cost: $22 million

Northeast Community Park

This 50-acre community park is projected to include another four baseball/softball fields and six pickleball fields in addition to volleyball courts, a walking path and more. Indoor space at the park will also accommodate a public library branch and space for use by the Supervisor of Elections Office.

Projected cost: $43 million

Along with the new parks, the newly approved plan includes appropriations of $3 million for improvements to Davis Park to transition the softball fields to baseball fields and add other expansions. 

With the unanimous approval from the County Commission, staff can work on identifying contractors for the projects and building the parks for tentative 2026 opening dates. 

Along with the county’s new planned parks, St. Johns County recently received $26 million from the state to put toward expanding bike trails. The funds come from the state’s Sun Trail Grant Fund and will be used to build a handful of new trails connecting to the larger St. Johns River to Sea Loop trail system. 

Four new bike path segments were also approved for construction by the St. Johns County Commission April 2. Not pictured is a fifth path along Beach Boulevard from Pope Road to State Road A1A. | St. Johns County

The loop connects five counties along the St. Johns River — from Volusia in the south to St. Johns in the north — with 260 miles of constructed or proposed bike trails. 

St. Johns County’s proposed use of nearly $26 million in state funds would allow for the construction of new trail segments along County Road 214, King Street and more. 

The project was endorsed by all five members of the County Commission, but not every member of the public present at the April 2 County Commission loved the expenditure. 

Mike McDonald said he rarely sees more than a few riders at a time on the existing bike paths, and he wishes the money could be spent elsewhere. 

No monetary match is required of St. Johns County to use the state  funding, but the county is drawing $55,000 from its reserves to hire a manager to oversee the extensive trail construction.

Editor’s note: This article was updated April 3 to correct an error regarding the amount of money allocated.

author image Reporter email Noah Hertz is a Jacksonville Today reporter focusing on St. Johns County. From Central Florida, Noah got his start as an intern at WFSU, Tallahassee’s public radio station, and as a reporter at The Wakulla News. He went on to work for three years as a general assignment reporter and editor for The West Volusia Beacon in his hometown, DeLand.

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