Forest Park neighbors and city officials celebrated the park’s reopening Saturday following a $3.6 million renovation project.
The park, which has been closed since February, has been transformed, and every element has either been upgraded or replaced.
“It was kind of some fields and a couple of structures here,” said Harvey Ward, mayor of Gainesville, when describing the old Forest Park.
“Now, with the planning and effort of the folks of the city and you all,” he said, “we have turned it into one of the premier parks in north Florida.”
Forest Park now has three and a half revamped soccer fields, brand new floodlights, shade covers, and new pickleball courts. The park has also added a new basketball court, picnic tables, beach volleyball courts and an improved dog park.
In addition to all the renovations in the park itself, improvements were also made to the parking lot. The entire lot has been redone, and spaces have been created to accommodate for food trucks, two of which were there Saturday.
The park’s renovations were funded by Wild Spaces and Public Places, a tax that goes to improving the city’s parks, recreation and cultural affairs. Ward, in his speech, thanked the Gainesville voters who supported Wild Spaces and Public Places program. He thanked the community for being “willing to support [Wild Spaces and Public Spaces] every time we go to the polls.”
One person every speaker acknowledged is Betsy Waite, the director of the Wild Spaces and Public Places program, who played a key role in the renovation of the park.
Waite and her team were given a standing ovation by the crowd who gathered to watch the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Waite thanked everyone who had played a part in the park’s reopening, from the mayor to the voters.
Locals who attended gushed about Wild Spaces and Public Places and the newly renovated park. It was described as “beautiful,” “awesome” and “perfect for the kids” by attendees of the ceremony.
Over 100 people were in attendance to listen to speeches and take in the ceremony. Most of them were chomping at the bit to get out onto the new soccer fields.
Among those people was Martin Costello, the president of the Gainesville Regional Soccer League. He and his organization played a big part in planning out the fields, and they met with city officials multiple times to work together.
Costello said they wanted not only to increase the number of fields, but improve their quality as well. Forest Park now boasts three full-size soccer fields and one half-size field, all equipped with a brand-new surface and a drainage system that will keep the fields in good shape throughout the year.
“These fields symbolize more than just grass and goalposts,” Costello said. He claimed that the new fields are to be a source of pride for not just his league, but the entire city.
He thanked Wild Spaces and Public Places for giving Gainesville youth a suitable place to play soccer and said that the previous fields had been sloppy and bad to play on.
District 3 City Commissioner Casey Willits also spoke at the ceremony. When he took to the podium, he focused on thanking the voters and the power of local government. He thanked his predecessor, David Arreola, a former city commissioner who had pushed for the improvement of the park.
“Forest Park is truly an example of what government does,” Willits said. “It is what we do together, and together we have a great park to enjoy.”