Calling this a “touchy subject,” the beach and park district backed off renaming the new waterfront park on A1A for Gordon Gilbert.
Seen as a living legend and a champion of green space, the former Boca High educator turns 90 soon. Legions of supporters, at least 45, called or emailed the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District that owns and is preparing to open Ocean Strand pending city permit approvals in February. The 11-acre waterfront site sits on both sides of A1A south of Spanish River Boulevard but only the Intracoastal site is under construction as a passive park right now.
But district commissioners demurred, saying they didn’t have a policy to follow and didn’t want to set a precedent.
“I can’t think of a person I admire more for what he’s done for our community. I think of him as a north star. But I’m not behind this initiative,” said Commissioner Bob Rollins. “Renaming a park property is a big deal.”
“There has to be a vetting process of any kind of naming of a park,” agreed Commissioner Craig Ehrnst.
“It would be great to honor him by naming a park, but I don’t want to rush into anything that would be permanent,” said Commissioner Erin Wright.
Gilbert deserves more than a plaque and the board should consider a bust or statuary, said Commissioner Steve Engel.
Commissioners cited Gilbert’s closer ties to Gumbo Limbo Nature Center he founded when he taught biology. And both former Friends president Michele Peel and executive director Leanne Welch applauded the renaming effort.
Welch cited “his refusal to stand by when the developers were beating down the doors. I hope we’ll be able to name something in his honor.”
But even Peel hesitated. “Renaming Gumbo Limbo is more appropriate but after 36 years that would be difficult. The brand should stay that way and his real impact is so much more to preserve green space.”
Commissioners didn’t take a vote on renaming. Instead, they asked their director Briann Harms to look into the city’s policy and the timing to open a new triage center for sea turtles at Gumbo Limbo. The center remains closed to visitors and there’s no reopening date yet.
By Marci Shatzman