Balis Park draws crowds, surely good for area business

San Marco residents surely love a good party. Just a week after the well-attended Fletcher Park fall concert, and two weeks after a nearly standing-room-only town hall meeting, local residents came out in good numbers for the celebration of the “official” re-opening of Balis Park.

With drum roll, District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer officially opened the park and made opening remarks about the year-long project that had merchants concerned for the 2012 holiday shopping season.

“For a project that was both a city project and a public-private partnership, there’s one thing I want to point out because you never hear it. The project came in almost $2 million under budget and that’s something you don’t hear very often,” Boyer said to applause.

The savings were put to good use citywide. “The first million we used to pay back city debt,” she said. “The second million was used this year because the capital improvements budget for sidewalks and bike lanes was zero.”

Boyer was enthusiastic about the results of the renovation, which surely have merchants smiling this year. “Balis Park as expanded is a fabulous addition to San Marco Square. This is exactly what we dreamed off, to have all of the people walking around,” she said. “I see a lot more people parking on one side of the street and walking to shops on the other. It was imposing to wind your way through the lack of crosswalks. This is a huge improvement.”

A lovely day for a photo op: District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer, two-time past SMPS president; Doug Skiles, past SMPS  president; George Foote, San Marco Merchants Association president, Mary Toomey, SMPS treasurer and Reese Riggle, current SMPS president.

A lovely day for a photo op: District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer, two-time past SMPS president; Doug Skiles, past SMPS president; George Foote, San Marco Merchants Association president, Mary Toomey, SMPS treasurer and Reese Riggle, current SMPS president.

Doug Skiles, resident, past San Marco Preservation Society president, and designer of the park expansion, echoed Boyer’s sentiments about safety. “Really, the most important thing to me is one that you don’t really notice, and that is that the traffic is calmer and it’s safer. You can cross the street now; people use parking on both sides and I think it’s better utilized.”
Current SMPS president Reese Riggle noted that the park was originally built in 1926 after the first bridge across the St Johns River was built and this area was starting to become populated. The Square was modeled after the Piazza San Marco in Venice [Italy].

“Just over a year ago, we all had the vision of making this park contiguous, one full park. It seems longer than that – and there’s a few people that put hundreds of hours into this – but it’s amazing how short of a time it’s been going from concept to completion to get this park the way it is now,” Riggle said. “In four months’ time, thanks to many of you, we were able to raise just about $100,000 to put into this park.”

Riggle gave special thanks to Doug Skiles, Rob Smith and Councilwoman Lori Boyer for their efforts in the renovation. “This park is where it is today due in large part to the private-public partnership between San Marco Preservation, its patrons, and of course, working with the public arm of our City. She’s [Boyer] been instrumental in making sure that this park and the roadway improvements of San Marco Boulevard all came together at the same time.”

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