Park grant prospects look promising

By Chris Berendt

May 3, 2014

A state grant application by the City of Clinton that would pay half the cost for the first stage of a Royal Lane Park overhaul is reportedly “scoring very high,” placing a funding fork firmly in the road for city officials during a recent meeting.

The Parks & Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) grant for Royal Lane Park Phase 1A would include overhauling two basketball courts, configuring four smaller U10 tennis courts, upgrading the playground area and beginning construction on a 2-mile paved walking trail that would encircle the park.

Phase 1A elements would also bring a new look to the entrance of the park, including signage. The upgraded elements were part of a $9 million makeover proposed by a Recreation Master Plan adopted last year. In an effort to offset some of the initial costs, the city, with the assistance of consulting firm Withers & Ravenel, applied for a $864,000 PARTF grant, of which half — $432,000 — would be a local obligation.

“I know there has been some questions about the PARTF grant,” city manager Shawn Purvis said during a special meeting Thursday. “We applied for the PARTF and what it would do is the basketball courts, the tennis courts, the playground and a few modifications to parking. The reason it was that project is because it was the only project that was going to qualify, with the tennis courts, as new elements. It does mean $432,000 out of our pocket.”

City recreation director Jonathan Allen has talked with state officials and Purvis said the application is being considered favorably.

“My understanding is we’re scoring very high on this application, which is what we intended and why we got Withers to help us do it,” said Purvis.

While PARTF grant announcements are made in May, this year it will likely happen in June.

“There has been some thought about if that $432,000 would be better served for baseball or soccer, which is higher demand,” said Purvis. “It rules out the grant, but it goes toward something else. We really need to decide whether we’re going to (pursue this grant) or not. That’s the bottom line. We do not want to get rewarded this grant and turn it down because we will not be looked favorably upon if we ever apply again. It would be better for us to go ahead and pull the grant application now before they make a decision, if we’re not comfortable.”

When the city applied for the grant in December, some concerns were raised about the particular park elements that would benefit from the grant. Those were echoed to a degree this week.

“My only holdup is that the citizens see us spending $800,000 for tennis courts — and I know that’s not the only thing we’re doing — but spending $800,000 when every baseball and softball field is filled most nights, football fields are full during the fall and soccer fields are full on the weekends, and not spending anything there,” Councilman Neal Strickland remarked.

“That’s a true statement,” Mayor Lew Starling replied. “The flip side of that is (the grant) would put a new face on the park, the tennis courts and all that.”

Councilwoman Jean Turlington said she would like to see the local tennis program enhanced. Unlike football, baseball and soccer, tennis was a sport that both old and young can play, she noted.

“And there are a lot of kids who have never held a tennis racket,” Turlington stated. “If you give them a tennis racket and teach them how to play tennis, they’ll have just as much fun as they would playing soccer, believe it or not.”

Turlington pointed to the other elements involved, including walking trails. Strickland agreed the walking trail would be popular, something Allen confirmed through the many community surveys conducted during the development of the Master Plan.

“If we got this, we would be doing these things at 50 cents on the dollar,” Starling said. “These things will last for a long time. I agree with everything you say Neal, but I’d hate to take out the grant.”

Purvis has said it was a matter of leveraging money and having the best possible shot at obtaining a grant that could offset needed funds to start implementing the entire plan.

Strickland agreed with that assessment, calling the nearly half a million “free money.”

“Again, like I have said, I’d like the most bang for our buck,” Strickland noted.

Starling pointed out that the argument could be made that much has already been spent on soccer and other sports to the detriment of tennis and basketball and the first phase of the Royal Lane project would be a “catch up.” Revamping and reconfiguring those old facilities, and adding new ones, might also serve to reach a different segment of the population, Strickland concurred.

“In my mind, I really think this will give a facelift to the park,” Starling said. “I really do.”

‘We need

a new face’

Under the master plan, a wagon-wheel baseball field design, with four 225-foot baseball fields located close to each other, would be placed at the front of the park, with upgraded tennis courts adjacent to them and large parking areas around both. Pierce Street would extend into a roundabout, with an art design at its focal point, and continuing onto the Bellamy Center, which would incorporate an older adult recreation area.

A fully revamped soccer complex would reconfigure the existing fields into five regulation soccer fields and a smaller multi-use field, with a soccer center and family picnic plaza would be centrally located between them. The existing football multi-purpose field, with the track surrounding it, would stay intact. Across from the Bellamy Center would be two larger baseball/softball fields, at 300 feet.

A large area for disc golf, would be located in close proximity to the existing amphitheater and a new picnic pavilion.

Those other modifications and additions would come in future phases, which would be a much larger slice of the pie. The wagon wheel would cost between $1 million and $1.5 million and the soccer field revamp would be about the same.

Stefanovich said he saw Strickland’s point.

“I’m not adverse to the project. I think tennis is important and we do need some tennis courts. Our tennis courts are awful. I think walking trails are important and on and on,” Stefanovich said. “I think you need to affect as many people as you possibly can.”

While the tennis courts were the new elements that were driving the grant, Purvis said it would be the walking trail, basketball courts and the playground that would get the most use.

The $432.000 in required local funding would have to be paid over three years, at $144,000 annually, and other funding sources, including federal money and local corporate and private donations, could be utilized to pay the city portion.

To that end, Allen took Council members through a proposal to offer naming rights for city recreation facilities and amenities, which included everything from the $50,000 annual cost for naming of baseball fields to $250 for benches, as well as various costs for the naming for playgrounds and placement of signs on field fences.

The matter was simply offered for Council consideration.

“Once this is approved, if Council chooses to move forward with it, there may be more people than we realize that step up to say we want to pay for the soccer field or a baseball field,” Purvis said. “We’ve got some great people and some great industries in Clinton, and there is a possibility that they help do some of those things.”

For now, being able to take a significant step toward updating the park, and doing it at half the cost, was a positive move, Starling said. In the end, the Council reached a consensus to continue with the grant process, and not pull the application.

“We need a new face out there, there’s no doubt about that,” Stefanovich said. “With the new traffic light that will be going in out there on Pierce Street in the next 18 to 24 months it needs to look different. It’s the opportune time.”

Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121. Follow us on twitter @SampsonInd.