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Pinellas County breaks ground on $10M park renovation

Ashley Morales



Pinellas County officials hosted a ceremonial groundbreaking May 21 for a $10.2 million project to revitalize Raymond H. Neri Community Park in Lealman. Photo: Ashley Morales.

Pinellas County administration held a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday morning for the highly anticipated Raymond H. Neri Community Park Improvements Project in the unincorporated Lealman area. 

The $10.2 million project aims to transform the community park into a state-of-the-art recreational facility for residents. Planned enhancements include a larger children’s playground, adult fitness course, small and large dog park, covered pavilion, open playfield, new landscaping, parking areas and new and resurfaced trails.

Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice and Pinellas County Director of Parks and Conservation Resources Paul Cozzie delivered brief remarks before participating in the ceremonial groundbreaking at the park, located at 5175 45th St. N. in St. Petersburg.

“On my way to work every day, I pass two community centers and three or four nice city and county parks. We don’t really have that kind of same quality park in Lealman,” Justice said. “Growing up, [I went to] those county parks for birthday parties, family events […] To have that opportunity for the folks in Lealman is just about quality of life.”

Funding for the project comes from the American Rescue Plan Act, Penny for Pinellas and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Plans for the Raymond H. Neri Community Park Improvements Project include a children’s playground, adult fitness course, dog park, picnic shelter, restrooms, open playfield, new landscaping, parking areas and
new and resurfaced trails. Screengrab: Pinellas County documents.

The park first opened in 2005 on 38 acres. Pinellas County has hired Gibbs & Register to construct the park.

At the groundbreaking ceremony, both Justice and Cozzie mentioned that the idea of turning the once-empty land into a rich community resource has been in the works for decades. They told stories of interactions with Raymond H. Neri, the late community leader and advocate for the Lealman area for whom the park is named.

“Ray would occasionally call me up and say, ‘I need you to come out here. There’s an issue I want to talk to you about,’” Cozzie recounted. “He would say, ‘This is a real big deal for the Lealman community.’ So this project has been in the works for almost two decades.”

The Raymond H. Neri Community Park Improvements Project is part of Pinellas County’s broader efforts to revitalize the Lealman area, an unincorporated part of the county that has struggled for decades with poverty and neglect. Other initiatives include establishing the Lealman Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) to reinvest local tax revenue, bringing new resources and programming to the Lealman Exchange community center and the future Joe’s Creek Restoration and Greenway Trail project.

“The Lealman community needed more. We’re seeing a lot of younger families moving into the area [and] a lot of people investing in their homes,” Cozzie said. “This really will be what we consider a community park: a centerpiece for the community to come out, bring their families and enjoy the outdoors.”

Revitalizing the park will also provide additional programming opportunities for the organizations that serve the area, such as the Lealman and Asian Neighborhood Family Center and the Pinellas Sheriff’s Police Athletic League (PAL). 

“There are going to be youth activities, opportunities for sports and programs like that. It’s a great, great progress for the people here,” Justice said. “It’s going to be really special.”

Construction is expected to be completed by early 2025.


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  1. Avatar

    Jeanette R Bulatowicz

    May 25, 2024at4:26 pm

    This is very exciting, there are so many families in this area will enjoy the park! I know Ray would be so happy too.
    We hope as many trees and shade areas can be kept or added 😎

  2. Avatar

    Edyie Pettit

    May 24, 2024at9:11 am

    Will there be room for the homeless? Because there is a lot of that going on.

  3. Avatar

    Brian Koll

    May 22, 2024at9:56 am

    I live in this area for over 20 years and have seen some much needed improvements, though very slowly and not enough in that time. Just this year we finally got our streets resurfaced for the first time, and they’ve added much needed sidewalks in the area and filled in the open ditches on 42nd street. While it is progress, we still have a bunch of open ditches in this area, and it’s way overdue to properly install updated drainage and fill and cover the ditches. The ditches aren’t just an eye sore with over grown weeds and trash but they also make great breeding grounds for mosquitoes. As much as this area pays in taxes, it still seems like the Lealman area gets overlooked a lot and 10.5 million for a dog park, playground and parking a parking lot is a insult when there are many other real issues in this area that need addressing. Code enforcement seems non existent, with homes with trash in the yards, unregistered vehicles, poorly built additions and sheds, and many other things. It’s not as bad as it was when I moved here in 2000, but I wish the government would stop with these vanity projects and work on bring the area up to the 21st century. It’s just hard to believe that as much as property costs in this county, that we still have all these issues here in 2024

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