CRESTVIEW — Linking historic downtown Crestview's shopping and dining with Twin Hills Park's recreational opportunities would maximize use from two existing city resources, City Councilwoman Robyn Helt said.
Helt has presented this concept — of a pedestrian and bicycle corridor joining Main Street with the park — to the city's Community Redevelopment Agency, which should have the funds to make it a reality.
Noting the CRA has a cash balance of about $1 million, she said, "my goal is to make sure we're utilizing the resources that we have, to put them back into the CRA district as they are intended to go and do so in a way that will benefit the most number of people."
Downtown's historic, well-defined early 20th-century business district is conducive to strolling and shopping, she said. Extending that classic model along a proposed corridor past the Amtrak railroad shelter on Industrial Drive and into Twin Hills Park at its southwest corner will offer a "continuity of theme," Helt said.
She likened it in concept to Disney World's Main Street U.S.A. that links the theme park's entrance with attractions beyond.
"Connect the two to make it feel serene and safe," Helt said. "There are ways to do it and carry the theme of downtown," including matching Main Street's historically inspired street furniture — such as streetlamps, planters and benches — along the foot and bike path.
Add picnic tables and shelters to the underused portion of southwest Twin Hills Park, couple it with proposed skate and dog parks on the north side, and link it with downtown's resources, and "we, I feel, have the potential to capitalize on the properties we currently have," Helt said.
Helt said she envisions parents strolling over to Main Street to eat and shop while their children play at the skate park or ball fields in Twin Hills Park. Pharmacy students at Florida A&M University's Rural Diversity Healthcare Center could take their lunch over to the park to eat and study outdoors. During downtown festivals, a pedestrian link to a site offering more parking also would be beneficial, she said.
"It also helps the parking situation because you use all the parking in the park and downtown," Helt said. "It's also a very short distance over to our new parking lot."
The Amtrak shelter, closed after Hurricane Katrina track damage caused suspension of the Sunset Limited's service east of New Orleans, could have new use in the concept, Helt said.
"When you're aggressively looking at ways to beautify your downtown, the last thing you want is to have something boarded up," Helt said. "It is the cutest little thing. That could be even turned — if there's not another suggestion — into a public restroom."
CRA board members agreed with Helt's recommendations.
"That is a lot of good information and we want to be good stewards of that area," board member and City Councilman Tom Gordon said. "My concern is security."
Helt noted that boarding up the Amtrak station was necessitated by vandalism "because there was nothing going on around it."
Creating a vibrant, busy corridor between Twin Hills Park and downtown would deter crime and vandalism, she said.
"If you go to Disney World and there was nothing between Main Street U.S.A. and Frontierland, there would be a lot of vandalism and tomfoolery."
Using CRA funds to maximize residents' use of the two areas would be a responsible use of money that by law can only be used on projects to improve the CRA district, Helt said.
"We have a little over a million dollars which is not general fund money," she said. "This is money that is earmarked specifically for the CRA and we have an obligation as the CRA board to utilize that money rather than just letting it sit there. I think as a whole we should develop a strategy and plan and cohesive vision. A lot of these things are not large scale in terms of cost."
Cal Zethmayr, chairman of a Historic Preservation Board committee studying the feasibility of recreating Crestview's original railroad depot as a multi-purpose downtown public facility, praised Helt's concept.
Several components she suggested complement his committee's vision, including the foot link between downtown and Twin Hills Park, he said.
"This isn't a new idea," Zethmayr said. "There's already an asphalt path there. When they built the Amtrak station, they had money left over and built a footpath along the original Yellow River Railroad route. We also wanted to open up the woods to have a picnic area."
"I think if we were to undertake any of this, we can't undertake just a small piece of this," Helt said.
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.