The dream of a legacy park inches closer with citizen rally for Baker Park

by Kelly Merritt

Baker Park1Baker Park GreenIt’s hard to believe that the next Baker Park fundraiser is already in the planning stages. Though the 2014 Prelude to a Park Gala took place in March, it seems like only yesterday that the community came together in support of what is destined to be a Naples legacy.

The date for the 2015 gala has been chosen: Saturday, March 7, 2015. Family Day will be the following day. Both events will take place at Riverside Circle on the park grounds. Funds raised will be used to complete the new Baker Park which will be developed along the banks of the Gordon River.

“Under the stars and a full moon it is a very unusual setting and the evening will feature an elegant dining experience, entertainment and an update on the progress of our legacy park,” says Friends of Baker Park President Delores Sorey, who took on the mammoth task of spearheading the inaugural event. “All of the people who participated from the volunteers down to the food want to do it again –including the family day vendors who all said they wanted to come back.”

Baker Park 2Councilman Sam Saad and his wife Amy will chair the Baker Park Family Day activities and some exciting new changes will take place. Mr. Saad initiated a partnership with radio station 104.7 MIXFM which is an outstanding addition to an already fun filled day. The time of the event will change to later in the day due to the heat. The festivities will still include bounce houses and other kid friendly activities but there will also be additional entertainment.

Mrs. Sorey plans to announce key participants and supporters in the coming weeks. She says there may have to be some changes to the fireworks display, although she may get some protest from attendees since many of whom called the gala light show among the best on record in Naples. Other changes will include the timing of the gala
as dinner had to wait to allow for enough darkness to clearly show the park design video. How park organizers will outdo themselves is a mystery, but Mrs. Sorey says she has another big surprise this year.

Last year’s surprise included incredible milestones such as the naming donation by Patty and Jay Baker. The Bakers will serve as honorary gala chairs of the 2015 event while Amy Saad who chaired Family Day last year will lend her vibrant energy and leadership as the gala vice chair.

Baker Park 3The design sponsor remains MHK Architecture & Planning, headed by park designer Matthew H. Kragh who has gifted the park with his talent and expertise. Kragh is one of the most sought after designers in town and brings vast experience and heart to the project. He has dedicated hundreds of hours of his time and that of his staff to manifesting the dream of the park. The premier sponsor this year is the Ronto Group while the gold sponsor is FineMark National Bank & Trust. The Law Offices of Sam J Saad, III , PA , have generously stepped up to become the silver sponsor.

And thanks to William Boyajian who designed a beautiful original pendant for the last gala, he has generously offered to design another stunning piece of jewelry for auction.

The public has been largely supportive of the park, with only a few voices raising objections. Supporters of the park have lit up the cause. Public meetings have birthed an army of park enthusiasts who delighted in sharing each their own vision for their park, earning Baker Park the moniker “The People’s Park”.

“This park will really put Naples on the map and with the connection with the Gordon River Greenway and five acres of mangroves that butts right up to the park, there are so many opportunities right here in Naples, practically downtown,” says Mrs. Sorey, referring to a connection with Southwest Florida’s stunning ecosystem, scenes which usually require a trek several miles from Naples to experience. “The park will have something for everyone in the community.”

Mrs. Sorey says $25 is just as important as a million dollars. For $25 people can say, this is my park that I helped build. Any donation is important because it shows support. At the last major meeting in front of Naples City Council Mayor Sorey presided over a stream of park supporters who wore green shirts that read, “Build Our Park” as one by one they filed in to speak of their love of the park, being in an outdoor place such as Baker Park and what it will mean to Naples.

The subject of the council meeting was the approval of the selection committee’s top three engineering firms and approval of professional services agreements with CDM Smith, Inc. for an amount of $467,000, MHK Architecture & Planning at no cost, and Architectural Land Design, Inc. at no cost for professional architectural, engineering and permitting services associated with the 30% design of Baker Park.

Amidst much talk of core samplings, environmentals and building a safe park, Naples residents who support the project have infused the park process with heart and soul. The new park sign will be up by the end of August heralding additional sponsors of the park – but the voices of those who have loved the park through its gestational stage have combined to be the biggest sign that the park will one day be born into its full potential.

Naples resident and park supporter Susan Earl was interviewed repeatedly by multiple media outlets after her positive attitude and park comments uplifted the entire room.

Such passion for the park was undeniable. Council was reminded that the features were selected by hundreds of residents during 20 meetings over a year which Kragh incorporated into a design plan. Baker Park is for everyone – not a few.

And speaking of heart, last year’s gala auctioneer was Councilman and former Mayor Bill Barnett. No one could do a better job: Baker Park has been his dream too, for decades. He has never given up on seeing it come to life. He kept the energy rolling at the 2014 gala and has agreed to conduct the 2015 auction too.

So what’s next? Now that council has approved the scope of work, the engineering company is working on the 30 percent design and cost analysis which will be presented in late 2014. Council also appropriated $7.5 million.

Mayor Sorey is hopeful that construction will begin in the summer after the 2015 Prelude to the Park event. Though Council has appropriated these city funds, private donors will have to do the rest.

“We are thrilled that millions have been raised but we still have more to do,” says Mayor Sorey. “The park is not a complex project like a multiple story building but it is still complicated – the Gordon River Greenway will be opened in October and we have also new changes from where we have been.”

Indeed, the beautiful burden of the Greenway Bridge was shuffled onto park shoulders, but like all things meant to be, it is all falling into place. Waiting on the Greenway has enabled the best orchestration of where it meets the park.

“We are still looking for a lot of support and from ten dollars to two million dollars I’d love to meet with anyone to talk about the park,” says the Mayor. “The engineering company we’ve selected are experts in their field so that is a positive for us and this is a very exciting time for the park.”

Save March 7, 2015 for Prelude to the Park and March 8 for Baker Park Family Day. Joe Marino and All The King’s Men will provide entertainment again, which is fortunate for Neapolitans who love to dance. The band had everyone on their feet at last year’s event. And families will again be able to attend a day full of laughter and entertainment the next day.

Tickets to Prelude to a Park Gala are $350 per person ($200 tax deductible), $500 per patron level ($350 tax deductible) and tables of 10 are $5,000 ($3500 tax deductible). For general information about the park, to make a donation or purchase Prelude to a Park Gala tickets, email Delores Sorey at

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