After years of work and decades of dreaming, the first part of Baker Park is finally open.
Baker Park's kayak launch, outdoor fitness facility and sunrise terrace opened Thursday morning. The remaining half of the park, which will include a grassy knoll, main building and bike path, is scheduled to open in October.
Naples leaders have dreamed of Baker Park for decades, but the project didn't start taking shape until May 2013. That's when the City Council approved the purchase of about 7 acres near 8 acres that once was the city's landfill. The city also bought 5 acres of mangrove forest along the Gordon River.
The project began as Gordon River Park, but the name was changed to Baker Park after Jay and Patty Baker donated $2 million. Jay Baker retired as CEO of Kohl's department stores, and Patty Baker is an award-winning Broadway producer.
"What a wonderful place this is for the community, and that's why we got involved in it," said Jay Baker. "What's better than building a park that everybody can come to and have a wonderful time?"
Work began in the summer of 2017 on the $4.4 million pedestrian bridge across the river, establishing a crucial connection between the future park and the Gordon River Greenway, according to Dana Souza, community services director.
"The connection from an urban downtown to the mangrove forest along the Gordon River Greenway is absolutely remarkable," Sousa said. "It is something you will only find in Naples. It is a Naples experience, and it will be an important part of the Naples brand in the future."
One of the park's key features — the sunrise terrace in the southeast corner of the park on the edge of the Gordon River — opened Thursday.
“It’s a really unique feature. We’re used to watching the sunset in Naples over the Gulf, but we have really beautiful sunrises, too," Souza said. "The sunrise terrace will be a popular place, we think, for people to come and watch the sunrise or have outdoor yoga classes, weddings (and) other smaller events.”
Another central feature of Baker Park is a one-story building that will include a catering kitchen, event space and restroom. The council approved the design of the building, which is contracted separately with an expected cost of about $3 million, at its Nov. 7 meeting.
With construction of the park and its main building expected to eventually exceed $14 million, the park’s overall price tag — including a bridge across the Gordon River, the original $3 million land purchase and about $1.5 million in engineering costs — comes to more than $23 million.
Baker Park is the most expensive public project in Naples history — and it's also one of the most important, said Mayor Bill Barnett.
"I don't think there are any words that capture the way that I feel today, because it is truly a happy day for all of Naples, for all of Collier County and for the generation that will follow us, our kids, our grandkids, their grandkids," he said. “I hope they’ll look back and say, ‘Wow, there were some visionaries there.’ ”
SOURCE: Naples Daily News
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