Community gathers to discuss the future of the Field of Dreams

A swimming pool, a splash pad, pickleball courts, indoor sports facilities – the community has big ideas for the Field of Dreams, a project aimed at creating a new sports and recreation facility on an already designated lot in Port St. Joe.


About a dozen members of the public stepped up to the podium to have their thoughts heard at the city’s Thursday evening workshop on the topic, all expressing their enthusiasm for the idea.


But, with the city and the county on different pages about securing funding for the project, a timeline for the Field of Dreams remains unclear.


“We have to start somewhere,” said City Commissioner for District 2 Scott Hoffman to those gathered. “But I think the key to (getting started on) it is funding.”


In April, Port St. Joe city commissioners voted to set aside $1 million federal Covid-19 recovery dollars for the project. They asked the County to make the same financial contribution, citing the number of out-of-city children who would use the new complex.


This money, Port St. Joe Mayor Rex Buzzett said, would be used to get construction on the project started, which he and other city officials expressed is much overdue.


“Now that we’re growing so much, we’re seeing more and more need. We’ve got 260 kids this year (playing) on Dixie Youth (little league) teams,” he said, adding that 60 percent of these children live outside Port St. Joe’s city limits.


The city’s initial plan is to construct four baseball and four softball fields on the site, along two concession stands – one serving each type of field.


But the city plans to find funding to construct additional features at a later date, which Buzzett said could include indoor gymnastic facilities, pickleball courts and other recreational facilities to be determined in future community workshops.


“Our plans are what you saw here this evening, but they’re not set in stone,” Buzzett told the Star. “They can be tweaked and will be tweaked.”


“We want to start small. We have to start small because funds are tight… Start small, go out for grants, go out for legislative appropriations, and maybe we can get some parts done in a year.”


But, after past attempts to expand the city’s recreational facilities that ultimately failed, County Attorney Jeremy Novak, who spoke on behalf of Gulf County at the workshop, said that county officials are reluctant to fund the project incrementally.


Instead, Novak said, the county would prefer to seek grant funding or legislative appropriations that could cover larger portions of the project’s total cost.


“Assuming the project would cost around $10 million, they’re putting in $1 million and the county’s putting in $1 million. Where would the other $8 million come from?” Novak said. “Once they have an answer to the funding, then they’ll start going out there and looking at the designs, feasibility, planning, roads, water and wetlands.”


These concerns were addressed in the Board of County Commissioners’ May 24 meeting. There, county commissioners declined to earmark the $1 million Port St. Joe had asked them to contribute, expressing their views that it would not cover enough of the construction costs and that they would look for grant funding sources instead. 


“I think we need to do a joint application with the city to try to get some funding,” said Chairman of the Board Sandy Quinn. “Even if we did come up with a million, I don’t think $2 million is going to build the Field of Dreams.”


The sports facility project originated about a decade ago, when the city determined they were outgrowing their existing baseball and softball fields located at 10th Avenue. 


The city drafted plans for a sprawling recreational facility, which a few years later was estimated to cost more than $7.5 million to construct. 


Choosing a less costly alternative, the city and county chose instead to pursue a project that would expand their existing 10th Street facilities, each pledging large sums of money to the project. This effort was ultimately derailed when members of the community filed lawsuits against the city and county, expressing concerns that included increased traffic presence and improper notification processes.


Some of these concerns were echoed by individuals who spoke at Thursday’s workshop.


Both city and county officials expressed a desire to host a joint meeting on the topic in the near future to discuss their differing viewpoints and work towards a solution that will allow the project to move forward.


“We want to have another workshop. We want the county to be here,” Buzzett said. “… We’ll just have to work it out and work with them.”


The designated lot for the project, which is owned by the city, is located at the end of Field of Dreams Road, off of Highway 98 near Gulf Coast State College.


Other issues raised in Thursday’s meeting and in previous city meetings on the topic include: the difficulty of securing tourism tax dollars for the facility, with strict regulations on how these monies can be spent; the need for public transportation to the facility; and whether or not the project is eligible for Triumph grant funding.


Officials agreed that these issues would need to be discussed further in subsequent meetings. Another workshop could be held on the project as soon as next month.

Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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