DADE CITY — Anxious to meet their goal of opening the new SunWest park this year, Pasco commissioners may be hoping for the impossible. They asked county Purchasing Director Scott Stromer to try to negotiate at least $1 million off the lowest bid to build the park, along with beaches, a parking lot and a boardwalk, to bring it within the county’s budget. What’s worse, commissioners learned Wednesday they have even less to spend — the new budget is $3.4 million. That’s because County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder said commissioners could not spend money collected from boat license fees — nearly $600,000 — in the first phase of the park. Cleveland Construction submitted the lowest bid for the basic park construction, but at $3.9 million, it still exceeds the county’s budget. Adding the parking and boardwalk would raise it to $4.6 million. Chairman Jack Mariano insisted that Stromer do his best to negotiate a better price, to get the contractor to build a splash park — all within the county’s limited budget.
“I think that boardwalk is a critical component to do,” he said. “I don’t want to build a parking lot with just a small amount of spaces. I just want us to make a great first impression out there. It’s going to be such a destination for everyone here, not to mention the region. I know we’re on the right track.” Other commissioners said they appreciated Mariano’s passion, but felt he was being overly optimistic. “We have to be selective because of the constraints of our budget,” Commissioner Ted Schrader said. Commissioner Henry Wilson and Kathryn Starkey echoed those sentiments. “I’m not comfortable saying yes to the boardwalk and yes to other items when it’s already $500,000 over,” Wilson said. He asked Stromer if he’d ever successfully negotiated such a huge discount on a competitive bid contract. “It’s probably unlikely,” Stromer admitted. “If it was $300,000, I’d say that would be doable.” Commissioners also postponed action on the 45-year contract with wake park operator Patrick Panakos, who plans to build a wakeboarding park at SunWest.