Cameron County officials gathered yesterday at Isla Blanca Park for a groundbreaking ceremony on $17 million in improvements to the gulf-facing side of the park.

They implored visitors to have patience as construction that will move beach pavilions 200 feet inland commences ahead of summer.

“The final result will be well, well worth it,” said Emilio Escobar, chairman of the Parks Advisory Board, during the ceremony at D.J. Lerma Pavilion.

When the overhaul is completed next year, amenities will include new pavilions with a connecting boardwalk, dune walkovers, picnic tables, barbecue areas, 280 additional parking spaces and more. The new design also eliminates vehicle traffic between the parking lot and the beach, which officials said will increase safety.

“The public that comes to our beaches deserves the best,” Precinct 1 Commissioner Sofia C. Benavides said. She noted that $6 million in upgrades are underway in the park’s Dolphin Cove area.

Construction will take place in phases to ensure park visitors still have access to the parking lot and beach. The Sandpiper Pavilion was demolished in March and is slated to be reconstructed by year’s end, weather permitting. Work on the new D.J. Lerma Pavilion will start in June.

“We have the best county coastal parks in the Gulf Coast, and they’re fixing to get better,” Parks Director Joe Vega said.

Isla Blanca Park snagged the No. 7 spot on USA Today’s list of the 10 best Texas beaches.

Robert Lerma, son of the late county judge for whom the pavilion is named, lauded the project and said he recalled the opening of the original site in 1987.

“Thank you for keeping his name alive,” Lerma said.

The county has partnered with the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and Texas A&M University-Kingsville on dune mitigation.