Gardens taps loan to renovate Burns Road Community Center

$20 million loan to pay for work at Burns Road and widening bridge near new FPL campus, as well as 12 pickleball courts.

Burns Road Community Center

The 40-year-old Burns Road Community Center is in line for a $30 million renovation, one of four projects that will benefit from a loan approved by the Palm Beach Gardens City Council Thursday night. 

The council agreed to a proposal from City Manager Ron Ferris to borrow $20 million without raising taxes to pay for the improvements. 

Instead, money now paying off other loans and fees from expanded recreational opportunities will go toward retiring $1.46 million a year in debt service over 20 years. 

The four projects include the final $10 million needed for the $30 million renovation of the Burns Road center, built in 1983.

Another $8 million goes toward widening the Kyoto Gardens Drive bridge that leads to the new Florida Power & Light campus off Military Trail and PGA Boulevard.

The City Council also unanimously supported spending $1 million on unspecified mobility improvements in a broad area encircling a proposed passenger rail station south of PGA Boulevard and $1 million to build 12 pickleball courts at Oaks Park.

Burns Road Community Center
Inside the Burns Road Community Center. (Joel Engelhardt photo)

Burns Road Community Center

The Burns Road center underwent an update in 2006 but its oldest portions are showing age and staff is out of space to expand, Leisure Services Administrator Charlotte Presensky told the council.

Architects began work last year on designs. Some of the things they’re working on:

  • Creating multi-use spaces: “What you do in a room at 8 a.m. is going to be very different than the class at 3 or the next adult class at 8,” Presensky said.
  • Distancing art rooms from the gymnasium: “Bouncing basketballs and fine art classes don’t work and that’s what we have currently at Burns Road.” 
  • Adding office space: “We’ve taken just about every closet in the building and put a human in it.”
  • Meeting current needs: “Demand for programs back in 1983 are not what they are today. Those are the spaces that we’re looking to improve.”

The move comes as the city completes renovations of the pool at Burns Road, including installation of a water slide and locker rooms.  

Proposed pickleball courts at Oaks Park.

As demand for pickleball skyrockets, Presensky said the city would build up to 12 courts at Oaks Park, which is north of Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center off of Gardens East Drive, being careful not to displace existing tennis courts.

She said the tennis and pickleball center at Joe Russo Athletic Complex have 516 members, double two years ago. And open play elsewhere is so jammed people are turned away. 

Kyoto Gardens Bridge
The Kyoto Gardens Drive bridge facing Military Trail. (Joel Engelhardt photo)

FPL bridge

The city already has lined up money to add an 8-foot sidewalk and 5-foot bike path on the north side of Kyoto Gardens Drive this year. But the new sidewalk and bike path will end at the eastern edge of the bridge because there’s no room for it to continue to Military Trail, creating a “pinch point,” said Planning and Zoning Director Natalie Crowley.

Under this plan, the city would work with FPL, the Florida Department of Transportation and Palm Beach County to add turn lanes, bike lanes and sidewalks to the bridge, which probably can’t be expanded to the north because of an existing neighborhood of townhomes.

It could take 18 months to agree on designs and permit the job, Crowley said.

FPL campus
FPL campus bounded by Interstate 95 (with Military Trail below), Kyoto Gardens Drive, Alternate A1A and PGA Boulevard.

The city described the proposal this way on its website

  • On the westbound, north side of the bridge: A 5-foot sidewalk and 4-foot bike lane, one right turn lane, one through lane and two dedicated left turn lanes.
  • On the eastbound south side of the bridge: Two through/receiving lanes to accommodate two southbound left turn lanes from Military Trail, a 4-foot bike lane and an 8-foot sidewalk, connecting to the existing 12-foot sidewalk installed last year by FPL.

In its application for a second 1,000-employee building at the site, approved in December, FPL did not commit to paying for bridge improvements. 

“While we recognize the intersection’s importance to the subject site as well as other development initiatives being pursued by the city and other developers in the area, we believe further analysis is needed and other parties should be consulted and engaged,” FPL’s application said.

The final $1 million from the loan would go toward “miscellaneous transportation improvements with (sic) the Transit Oriented Development District,” which is a broad circle surrounding the proposed rail hub along the Florida East Coast Railway tracks between PGA and RCA boulevards.

The city allows more density in the district, which could be served by commuter rail if Tri-Rail moves to the FEC line.

FPL office building
Florida Power & Light office building from Kyoto Gardens Drive. (Joel Engelhardt photo)

How the debt will be paid

Administrators selected TD Bank out of Coral Gables from eight banks that made proposals in February. The bank offered a 3.74 percent interest rate and gave the city the right to pay off the loan penalty free after 9.6 years.

The loan comes as debts undertaken in 2011 and 2013 come off the books, freeing up $600,000 in debt payments. Staff also anticipates an extra $865,000 to come in every year from the expanded facilities and recreation fees, money that would be dedicated to covering the debt service.

The city has finished all the construction it financed in 2017 through a $30 million bond issue. Bond payments of $3.3 million a year continue to be paid from the city’s share of a 1-cent sales tax surtax charged countywide. That tax is expected to sunset in 2026 and the final debt payments are due in 2027. 

The city’s 10-year forecast shows its property tax rate staying at $5.32 per $1,000 of taxable  value. The city, which maintains deep reserves, relies on a growing tax base, buoyed by the sale of high-end homes in Alton, Avenir and elsewhere.

© 2023 Joel Engelhardt. All rights reserved.

Author: Joel Engelhardt

Joel Engelhardt is an award-winning newspaper reporter and editor based in Palm Beach Gardens. He spent more than 40 years in the newspaper business, including 28 years at The Palm Beach Post. As a reporter, he covered countywide growth, the 2000 election and the birth of Cityplace in West Palm Beach. As an editor, he oversaw probes into the opioid scourge, private prisons, police-involved shootings and more. For seven years, he worked on the paper’s editorial board. Joel left The Post in December 2020. He and his wife, Donna, have lived together in Palm Beach Gardens since 1992.

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