Royal Lane Park passed over for grant funding

By Chris Berendt

July 16, 2014

An unsuccessful grant application for the initial stage of a Royal Lane Park revamp has Clinton officials “perplexed and dismayed” and City Council headed back to the drawing board on potential courses of action for the renovations.

The city received news of the announcement by the N.C. Parks & Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) grant program Friday, at which point manager Shawn Purvis promptly notified Mayor Lew Starling and City Council members. Up until that point, receipt of the grant funds appeared to be a foregone conclusion as it was being looked at very favorably.

“It is unfortunate that we did not receive the PARTF grant,” City Recreation director Jonathan Allen said Tuesday. “It was disappointing for us, but our goal will not waver.”

“We did not receive the grant even though we had one of the top 10 applications,” Purvis added. “Jonathan and I were a little perplexed and dismayed by it. It was a little frustrating to say the least.”

Purvis said Allen believed the application was actually ranked second in the state’s specialized point system at one point among some 64 applications totaling $17 million in proposed projects. Of those applications submitted, 18 were ultimately funded totaling $4.1 million, with Clinton left off the list, Purvis noted.

“They only selected a small amount (of projects),” the city manager commented. “They try to spread it around to different districts across the state.”

With the state budget still being considered in the N.C. General Assembly, the $4.1 million distributed through the PARTF could fluctuate, but the possibility of the allocated funds rising — at which point Clinton’s proposed project could come back in the loop — is remote.

“We’re not counting on that,” Purvis said simply.

Allen offered a glaring statistic regarding the funding distributed through PARTF, which was cut by 60 percent from last year’s amount.

“The total requested amount for PARTF projects this year was $17 million. PARTF had $4 million to award. There was $10 million last year,” the recreation director noted. “This underscores the need for our legislators to reexamine this funding and restore dedicated funding to it.”

In all, the PARTF grant for Royal Lane Park Phase 1A encompassed 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 also included a new-look entrance to the park.

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. City managerial staff worked with Withers & Ravenel to narrow the scope of the renovations leading up to the submission of the grant.

Those elements were to be just the start of a massive $9 million makeover proposed by a Recreation Master Plan adopted by Council in July 2013 following much discussion with engineers and public input forums. The Council subsequently signed off on Phase 1A for the PARTF grant application at the end of 2013 and, in May, staff reported that the city’s application for the first stage of the park’s overhaul was “scoring very high.”

Hearing the positive outlook, Council agreed to press on.

Throughout the process, some Council members shared concerns about the particular park elements that would benefit from the grant, should it be received. While going along with the rest of the board, Councilmen Neal Strickland and Steve Stefanovich both expressed apprehension about pouring money into an initial phase that would include significant work on tennis courts, while leaving soccer and baseball for future phases.

Purvis pointed to the tennis courts as being the “new elements” identified by Withers & Ravenel as key to any PARTF grant’s success.

Now that the grant is off the table, at least for this year, the City Council will have several questions to consider and could go in any number of directions, regardless of the inclusion of new elements.

Under the $9 million 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 the 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.

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

All of that is now on the table.

“Council needs to figure out what the next step is and how we finance that,” the city manager said. “Do we continue this phase or would it be better if we look at green space and the soccer complex? It’s not a new element, but now that we didn’t get the grant, do we need to look at something else?”

The next application cycle is at the end of January 2015 and Purvis said the city very well may apply again.

However, city staff will have to first evaluate the state’s feedback on the current application as well as seek the Council’s input and direction. Allen said the city still has as its goal to renovate Royal Lane Park and will continue to push for the needed funding to realize that.

“We will regroup, reevaluate and decide on a new plan of action,” Allen said.

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