Despite heavy equipment coming through and road detours planned, residents living next to Bonnet Springs Park continue to be encouraged by the progress of the massive, privately funded public park, expected to open in 2022.

Last week, Bonnet Springs leaders held their second community update, drawing about 25 residents. The objective of the meetings is to keep residents informed on progress and development, said Bill Tinsley, Bonnet Springs Park president.

“We want to be good neighbors,” said Tinsley, who said he has fielded very few complaints from surrounding homeowners.

One of the topics discussed is the closure in the next few days of Sloan Avenue for four to six weeks. Traffic flow will be rerouted one block to Chase Street. Eventually, Sloan will serve as the new park access, and residents also will have their own entry into the park.

“The park is a huge asset to residents, and we want to be able to connect the neighborhood to the park,” Tinsley said.

Neighbors said they are also happy to learn of plans for security and lighting.

“Bonnet Springs will be a technically intelligent park,” Tinsley said, noting that license tag readings and security cameras are planned. “We want visitors and residents to be comfortable.”

Several roads have experienced damage from construction trucks and heavy equipment coming through, and Tinsley told residents these would be repaired in a timely manner.

“We’re very happy,” said LaFrancine Burton, a longtime Crescent Heights resident and a historian of local Black heritage. “I haven’t heard anything negative. We’re very pleased.”

Residents in the Crescent Heights neighborhood, formerly known as Robinson Quarters, say they are eager for Bonnet Springs Park to open. The area is currently comprised of about 27 residences.

The enthusiastic support is a switch from residents’ concerns four years ago that eminent domain laws would allow the city of Lakeland to take ownership of Crescent Heights’ private properties for public use. Many residents recall the Moorehead community, a historically Black neighborhood, that was dismantled in 1974 to build the civic center now called the RP Funding Center.

Robinson Quarters, north of Lake Beulah, is one of the earliest Black neighborhoods in Lakeland and formed around the railyard that became a booming industry between the 1880s and mid-1900s. The Bonnet Springs team has worked to ensure contamination remediation left behind by the railyard operation has been thorough.

“This is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Lakeland,” Tinsley said. “A lot of the residents are descendants of rail workers. They have a vested interest historically in the park.”

The 168-acre park also received a boost in April 2021 when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis visited the park to announce a $42.9 million grant to the city of Lakeland to clean Lake Bonnet and improve drainage.

Bonnet Springs Park is working toward construction completion in late 2021 or early 2022, followed by three to four months of building out exhibit spaces in the Explorations V Children’s Museum and the GiveWell Community Foundation Nature Center as well as staffing the History Center. Planting out of the park, Tinsley said, is currently under way.

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