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Everglades Visitors Center Destroyed by Hurricane Irma Being Replaced

Wed September 27, 2023 - Southeast Edition #22
National Park Service & Business Wire

An aerial view of the park’s Gulf Coast site and National Park Service facilities in Everglades City.
(NPS/Ron Bend photo)
An aerial view of the park’s Gulf Coast site and National Park Service facilities in Everglades City. (NPS/Ron Bend photo)

South Florida's Everglades National Park will be getting both a modern replacement and a new name for its visitor center on the state's Gulf Coast, according to the National Park Service (NPS).

The agency announced Sept. 13 that it had awarded a construction contract for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Visitor Center project, one of four such facilities that guide visitors into the sprawling 1.5-million-acre wetlands park.

Business Wire reported that Perini Management Services Inc. in Framingham, Mass., a subsidiary of Tutor Perini Corp., a leading civil, building and specialty contractor, had won the bid for the fixed-price project valued at approximately $47 million.

The work will include constructing a new two-story building and making major site improvements at the former Gulf Coast Visitor Center in Everglades City. The location also is where Everglades National Park was dedicated on Dec. 6, 1947.

The new project comes six years after the original visitor center and its surrounding infrastructure were destroyed by Hurricane Irma in September 2017. Since that time, a temporary contact station has been in place to provide orientation for park visitors. The replacement effort will build resiliency, enhance the visitor experience and improve the park's ability to maintain the facilities, NPS explained in a news release.

"We are so pleased to announce the award of this contract and get this project moving," said Pedro Ramos, superintendent of Everglades and Dry Tortugas national parks. "These improvements will provide a premiere place to showcase the Gulf Coast of Everglades National Park and will ultimately contribute to supporting the local economy of Everglades City."

New Facility Designed to Stand Up to Fierce Storms

The NPS noted that the two-story visitor center will be built for resiliency to withstand hurricane-force winds and storm surges. In addition, it will include visitor orientation, retail space, staff offices and an elevated deck with views of nearby Chokoloskee Bay. The elevated building is designed to meet LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Silver requirements and Florida building codes for coastal high-hazard zones.

This design-bid-build contract also includes a one-story remote concessions and storage building near an improved canoe/kayak launch ramp and the installation of underground utilities, according to Business Wire. Additionally, Perini will demolish portions of the existing bulkhead and provide a new one at the marina and along the waterfront, dredge Chokoloskee Bay and replace existing floating docks with a new floating dock system that will have accessible ramps.

The substantial sitework associated with the new Everglades visitor center will ensure that the roads and parking areas are elevated to reduce flooding from storms and king tides. Enhanced pedestrian walkways, outdoor seating, native landscaping and shoreline stabilization also are part of the plan.

Business Wire noted that Perini recently began preconstruction activities and plans site mobilization in early October. Substantial completion of the welcome center is anticipated in August 2025, the company said.

The NPS said that while closures at the Gulf Coast location are planned during construction, the park will work to maintain some visitor access when it is safe to do so. The canoe/kayak launch is expected to remain open continuously until April 1, 2024, when it will close to allow for the building crews to work at the site.

Onsite concession services, including boat tours and rentals, will cease Sept. 30 before resuming in the fall of 2024. Due to the complexity of the project, the NPS noted that all construction and closure dates may vary due to unforeseen circumstances.

The Everglades City visitor center will be named for Marjory Stoneman Douglas, an author and environmental advocate for the establishment of Everglades National Park. Construction of the new facility was initially authorized by Congress in 1989 as part of the Everglades National Park Protection and Expansion Act.

Besides the Gulf Coast facility, the other Everglades visitor centers are Shark Valley in Miami, Royal Palm in Homestead, and the Flamingo facility, located 38 mi. south of the Homestead entrance.

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