2017-12-01 / Spotlight News

Friends of Lovers Key FOLKS plan visitor center

By Kathy O’Flinn

On the beach at Lovers Key, FOLKS celebrated 20 years of service and a clear path to a long dreamed of visitor center. On the beach at Lovers Key, FOLKS celebrated 20 years of service and a clear path to a long dreamed of visitor center. On November 17, the Friends of Lovers Key (FOLKS) celebrated 20 years of service to Lovers Key State Park. FOLKS, the nonprofit group established to preserve and support Lovers Key State Park, also had more to celebrate – a clear path to a long dreamed of visitor center. The state of Florida has committed $4 million to fund its construction.

As Rich Donnelly, president of FOLKS, Inc., explained, seven years ago the FOLKS organization decided to take on the task of getting a visitor center built. The park, which is the second most visited park out of 174 parks in the state system, had more than 1 million visitors last year. It seemed only fitting to provide a more complete visitor experience with a visitor center. FOLKS envisioned a place to go indoors to have lectures, classes, community meetings and exhibits.

The effort didn’t pick up much steam until Mark Generales, a board member, got involved. FOLKs cannot legally lobby the state government to fund projects, so Generales decided to take it upon himself, acting as an individual, to see what he could do to secure funding from the state for the project.

With his persistence over several years and the assistance and support of former Sen. Garrett Richter, Rep. Matt Caldwell and Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, the state legislature approved the funding last session.

Preliminary drawings of the building have been prepared by the Sarasota firm Sweet Sparkman. “The drawings are at this point 60 percent completed. We think it fits well within the community and will be an iconic structure for the park and the community around it,” said Donnelly.

Major components of the 4,000-square-foot building include an exhibit hall, and a multipurpose room which can be used for a classroom, meeting room and a variety of purposes. A unique part of the multipurpose room design is doors that open up to a covered teaching deck. It also presents a possible source of income, renting out for meetings or weddings, said Donnelly.

“We got a lot more to do,” said Generales. “This ($4 million) is construction, no furnishings.” FOLKS is planning to raise an additional $1.3 million for the interior exhibits and furnishings. The exhibits alone are expected to cost about $800,000.

FOLKS hired a St. Paul firm, Split Rock Studios, to create concept draw­ings for the exhibit hall portion of the building. These state-of-the-art exhibits will address the four barrier islands that make up Lovers Key and its four distinct ecosystems.

“We should be able to drive use of that facility in a very significant way. I see it as such a benefit to the community,” said Generales.

Groundbreaking is expected in 2018.

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