Dreams Come True As Park Excitement Grows

parkWith the gala and family day right around the corner, Neapolitans who have long dreamed of an open space park in Naples have a new reason to celebrate. The latest park plan is everything park supporters hoped it would be and more.

“We just finished concept “C” and are working on concept “D” which we had prior to the design charrette on January 15,” says architect Matt Kragh of MHK Architecture & Planning, the firm designing the park pro bono. “The process is going very well and we have received a ton of great input from the public.”

The plans for the park have made it through all of the public input, including the design charettes where the public had extensive input. As of press time, they were making the rounds through the city’s rezone and conditional use process. Organizers expect the plans to be finalized through City Council the first week in March.

“This will be timely because the gala’s timing was scheduled to be right after the city council’s hearing,” said Kragh, whose motivation prompted him to donate his time to design a park for his own son and all of the children of Naples to use. “We are just excited to be a part of this Naples iconic park and we’re creating a place for all families to be excited to come here.”

All in the Family

Family is a huge part of why the park will be successful. Amy Saad is in charge of family day which will take place the day after the gala event. It promises to be a lively energetic event that will be fun for the entire family. Park gala organizers hope the day will open up the park in such a way that the whole community can get passionate about the park, long before it’s officially open.

“Everyone is invited to attend family day on March 16 and they can expect different musical acts and performances from 1-4 pm, food and other activities,” she says. Participants who have signed up so far for family day include several area performers and vendors. “We have contacted various schools and organizations, but we do expect kids from Kidzact and the Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church to perform.”

Food and beverage will also be available including hotdogs and hamburgers. Saad says the community should come out to support this day for a very special reason.

“The community should come out because the park belongs to the people,” she says. Why is it important for families to see the progress of the park? Saad and other park supporters believe the park is a reflection of the community. “It is being designed with the residents’ input and concerns and time and effort donated by Matt and the City of Naples Council.”

A Tall Order

The “Prelude to a Park” gala event remains one of the most ambitious events in Naples history. Benefitting the Gordon River Park, this gala while a magical affair is a logistical nightmare.

When you hear from someone like Jim Rideoutte, who is known for never backing down from a challenge, discuss the staggering logistics involved in such a gala event, it’s easy to wonder how they’ll pull it off. But the organizers are undaunted.

“This is a large plot of raw land – but that’s the challenge and the attraction, with a number of logistics you normally would not run into,” says Rideoutte. “It’s easy to ask ourselves, should we go to the Naples Beach Club or another nice hotel, because it’s much simpler to go to a place where they do this on a regular basis.”

But Rideoutte says it’s an unprecedented opportunity to do something in a very unusual place.

“If you can pull it off that adds a tremendous extra dimension to it – when my wife Chris and I lived in Cincinnati, the symphony and also the opera would occasionally take place at the Cincinnati Zoo but people saw that as a unique attraction.”

To begin the gala and family day planning process, city officials and organizers visited the site. Toward the eastern center of the plot the city will level out the ground so it’s relatively smooth. Also, the city and several other townspeople have generators for lighting, which Rideoutte says will be aided considerably by the full moon.

“The reason for the March 15 date is because it’s a full moon – so nature will provide us with some light but we’ll have to have some lighting,” he says. “We’re utilizing and maximizing being outside with nature in this unique situation – and we’re running a test to make sure the generators won’t be too noisy.”

At press time, the team was deciding on ground cover for the gala as well. Organizers says they will strike some balance at the event – it may be outside, but this is Naples, after all. The food and beverages will be amazing, the party spectacular, attendees gorgeous and the cause irresistible. It is not a hot dog-hamburger-barbecue cookout. Organizers have thought of every detail, including upscale restroom facilities, some of which are nicer than traditional bathrooms.

“We’ll have extended golf carts that will take people from their cars to the site so they won’t have to walk on raw land,” says Rideoutte.

“The underlying theme of all of this effort is for the people to see and enjoy this large park, which will be unique to Naples.”

Rideoutte loves that the park will allow residents and visitors to come out and use their own imagination right along the banks of the river.

“It’s really a rare opportunity for the city of Naples and its citizens and this gala event is a fundraiser – city council has appropriated some funds but by no means will it be enough to make this the first class park,” says Rideoutte who hopes the gala will create even more momentum for the park. “I think all of us are lucky to have an opportunity like this and we can’t let it pass. Our role in the committee is not only to raise money but to make the majority of the citizens aware of what we have acquired to and be aware of it and to appreciate it.”

The gala event is slated for March 15 at the Gordon River Park, while family day is scheduled for the next day on March 16, 2014. For more information about park events or to make a donation, call 239.263.2673 or visit www.NaplesGordonRiverPark.com.

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