"This is not a $6 million playground and splash pad project. This is a plan that, over time, will allow us to improve safety ... create synergies with other projects."

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NAVARRE — Navarre Park could receive some long-awaited updates such as drainage and infrastructure improvements, parking expansion and a new butterfly vivarium and learning center.

At Thursday's Santa Rosa County Commission meeting, Genesis engineering firm presented its master site plan for the popular park, which would be broken up into three phases and comes with a $6.3 million price tag.

Before the presentation of the park's possible new amenities, District 4 Commissioner Rob Williamson presented a slide show of the existing conditions of the park. Some slides depicted drainage problems by the popular splash pad in the children's area, duct tape holding up playground equipment and deteriorating infrastructure. He stressed the need to improve the overall look and functionality of the site.

See the master site plan

"It's our hub," he said. "We have 6,000 visitors or more every year. This is not a $6 million playground and splash pad project. This is a plan that, over time, will allow us to improve safety ... create synergies with other projects."

The proposed first phase of the Navarre Park improvement project is to repair or demolish old infrastructure such as the old walkway that has been closed for more than two years and a small stage that sits over Santa Rosa Sound. Other items include filling the duck pond, a parking expansion of 55 spaces and stormwater treatment updates.

The next phase, called 1B, includes a butterfly vivarium, new and ADA-compliant playground and waterplay equipment and another public restroom.

The second phase includes stormwater conveyance and hardscape improvements, and the final phase will be more parking improvements and picnic shelters.

Williamson said the park improvements come from "multiple" public comment periods.

The first phase is the largest portion of job, with a cost of about $2.9 million. A portion of the county's $1.5 million tourism reserves may be allocated to the park along with RESTORE Act funds and $250,000 that the county has set aside for a future community center that may be "better put to work" at the park, Williamson said.

The county will have to review bylaws to determine if tourism dollars can be used for the park.

"No doubt it's a significant investment," Williamson said. "This is a plan that was developed over a period of years. The sad thing is that rec fund dollars alone can't fund this project."

The east side of the park would be dedicated to children and families. The west end would be "remembering history" and revolve around the Blackhawk Memorial statue, according to the Genesis proposal.

What will stay is the west end restrooms, the Blackhawk Memorial statue and the welcome center. The only thing that didn't make it into the site plan was the basketball courts.

Public comments were overwhelmingly positive, especially the plans to update the Panhandle Butterfly House. The concept plan shows a 2,500-square-foot vivarium that would include a greenhouse where butterfly-friendly plants would grow and a 1,500-square-foot learning center. The building will have the same architectural style as the welcome center.

The Panhandle Butterfly House was founded in 1997 and exists as a nonprofit program of the Santa Rosa Clean Community System Inc. and the UF/IFAS Cooperative Extension Service.

Mary Salinas of the UF/IFAS extension office in Santa Rosa County said the butterfly house has been a field trip destination for more than 500 students so far this school year. An estimated 10,000 people visit the Butterfly House each year.

Williamson admitted he wasn't always a "believer" in the Butterfly House. At one point wanted to put replace it with a parking garage. But in reality, the Butterfly House sets the park apart from other local destinations.

"Local beach communities ... they all have a beach, but none of them have a butterfly house," he said.

Leah Cortello and Rebecca Pullum of the Starfish Project of Northwest Florida, a nonprofit dedicated to helping families with special needs, said they supported the park updates and said they would even help raise money for park equipment.

"Making the park ADA-compliant is not just great for my son, but great for all other children in Santa Rosa County," Cortello said. "We're hopeful and excited."

Navarre resident TJ Goulet said the park would be "an investment in tourism."

"We have to look beyond the short-term numbers," he said.