Four years and $34 million later, the last phase of Kissimmee Lakefront Park will be finished by week’s end.
The fences started coming down Wednesday, and by Saturday the park will be fully open to the public. The renovation – the largest capital improvement project ever undertaken by the city – has completely revamped the 18-acre property along the north shore of Lake Tohopekaliga in downtown Kissimmee.
The last segment to open on the southwest side near Big Toho Marina includes 52 new boat slips, an event lawn, a playground and a splash park, a wide lakefront promenade and the “lighthouse point” peninsula. It complements and connects to Ruby Plaza, a civic lawn, another playground and two fishing piers that opened over the past two years during the completion of the first two phases.
Burkhardt Construction will pack up its kit and crew Friday, but city workers will continue to put the finishing touches on the park over the next few months until its grand opening in January, said Dan Loubier, director of Parks, Recreation and Public Facilities. Loubier can speak to most every detail of the park’s design and concept – from the NFL-grade AstroTurf on the playground to the wheelchair-accessible boat slips. He even delights in pointing out the little details, such as the squirrel carved under a recycled-wood slide. “It’s the details that make a park great,” he said.
Informational signs reveal snippets of the storied history of Kissimmee and Lake Tohopekaliga, including the pioneers and native Seminole tribes that got here long before Walt Disney. All the foliage and landscaping have been designed from native species. And the architectural details are reminiscent of the first Florida style “cracker” houses built when the area was settled in the late 19th century. “We wanted to reintroduce the culture and heritage into this final phase,” Loubier said. “We wanted the park to tell a story.” It’s been a labor of love, said Loubier, who has helped shape the new Kissimmee Lakefront Park from the beginning. The project has stayed on budget and on time, he added.
Now a “jewel” for all to enjoy, the park could have gone the way of high-end residential development a decade ago when city officials began entertaining the idea of an overhaul. The city instead opted to stay true to the public park concept and based much of the massive renovation on input from public hearings. “People said they wanted access to the lake, bike paths, concession stands, playgrounds, so we gave them what they wanted,” Loubier said. “This is the epitome of how a public project should work.”
And judging by the way people have been flocking to the already open section of the park, it’s getting good use.
Most of the 15 covered pavilions with grills, tables, electricity and ceiling fans – which can be rented for $75 a day – are booked on the weekends for months in advance. Some even have fireplaces, although those interested in using them must hire a city worker to tend to the stoking duties. The grills can be used without special permission.
What’s just as heartening as the park’s popularity is the way people are taking care of it, said Loubier.
There are more than 70 free events in the park each year, and the city is working on developing more programming, from environmental classes for students to yoga in the park, Loubier said. “This is definitely the peoples’ park,” he said.