12/04/11 — Park group struggles to find way

View Archive

Park group struggles to find way

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on December 4, 2011 1:50 AM

Full Size

News-Argus file photo

Stoney Creek Park: The journey so far

Full Size

Allison Carter

Airman First Class Kevin Roman throws a disc Friday at Stoney Creek Park during a disc golf game with his friends. The disc golf course is one of many recreational activities available for the community at the park.

When the Stoney Creek Park Development Committee, a city board under the umbrella of Parks and Recreation, was dropped in exchange for a non-profit organization to oversee the park's changes from floodplain to first-class park, its original purpose was so that it could attract tax-deductible donations to fund a $2 million park project.

Now the Stoney Creek Park Alliance has exhausted its funds and owes the city about $600 for the Howl-o-ween 5K and festivities it put on last month. The group collected about $600 from the event, but at the Nov. 17 Alliance meeting, Parks and Recreation Director Scott Barnard said the final bill for the event amounted to about $1,200.

"We're broke," Chairwoman Sissy Lee-Elmore said as her group discussed its finances.

The history of the Stoney Creek groups tells a story of a park which has had its future rewritten many times in the past decade, but the time might be up for the non-profit as the group's future has been called into question recently.


Parks and Recreation Director Scott Barnard, who began work in late August, has taken a keen interest in the park, which is the only one in the city's 11-park system that has a non-profit group overseeing its development.

But the role of the Stoney Creek Park Alliance in the park's future emerged as an issue itself at a recent meeting where Barnard asked the group about its future after the organization has seen its renovation project through.

The current project is one bolstered by a $132,750 Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant and is intended to bring about restrooms, picnic shelters and an amphitheater, but that's hardly where the vision began.

In 2005, the Stoney Creek Park Development Committee was proposing to put a six-acre lake in the park in hopes it would inspire water recreation and make the park a destination for residents and tourists. The $2 million price tag would be covered through the $500,000 PARTF grant, officials thought, with the city providing a dollar-for-dollar match.

The lake concept also kept the committee's charge in mind, supporters said, as its mission statement included provisions to keep the park a "passive outdoor recreation area" that included walking and biking trails, opportunities for nature observation and natural resource conservation.

A master plan for the park was given preliminary approval from the Goldsboro City Council in November 2006

Still the price tag, even with the grant, would mean $1 million would have to come from somewhere, so then-City Manager Joe Huffman and the committee determined the best avenue would be to establish a non-profit advisory group for the park, which would allow members of the community to make tax-deductible donations to the park effort. With community support and a little luck, the project would be a success.

But luck was definitely not on the side of the Stoney Creek Park Alliance.


In July 2007, the group received word that its PARTF grant application had been denied because of a lack of a public survey and no comprehensive parks plan.

During discussions the following month, a consultant said that a project's first application was seldom chosen, even with a perfect application. That left officials in better spirits, especially since some, like District 2 Councilman Bob Waller, said they didn't understand why three public meetings held on the subject didn't count as the public survey required for consideration.

Heeding advice from Snow Hill-based Carolina Opportunities, the Alliance decided to redouble its efforts to get public input into the parks plan by including a survey in water bills, pushing an online survey and providing copies at recreation centers. Then-Director Sonya Shaw said she hoped the survey would be completed by December -- just before the grant application was due in January 2008.

That was still the plan in September, but by the Alliance's October meeting, members no longer wanted to stay that course.

Consultant Stephen Moler told the group that submitting a plan along with public survey results wasn't quite what the PARTF grant-awarders would be looking for. The idea, he said, was to get the results of the survey and then mold the plan to meet the requests of the community.

Mrs. Shaw changed her mind, as well, saying she also felt it was good to wait on the application.

By the time the results were tabulated, more than 1,200 surveys had been submitted. What emerged as the most popular items the public wanted, however, wasn't the lake.

The survey revealed the public wanted walking trails, leading the Alliance to reshuffle its priorities and leave the lake plan for a future phase of the park project.

Public forums in August 2008 were to facilitate the final comments from the public before Kimley-Horn and Associates received the results to design a plan for the park, but there were concerns about the design process well before the public sounded off on the proposals.

Both the Alliance and the City Council were concerned with consultant fee estimates to the tune of $85,000 for a park design, with a $118,000 estimate if the plans were to include schematics for the lake.

Council members questioned the hiring of Kimley-Horn, a high-profile consultant, to perform the design and suggested finding a different, smaller consultant that would be likely to do the work for less.

Mrs. Shaw insisted that only Kimley-Horn, which had been working on the park project for four years, would be able to get a design together in time to meet the PARTF October application deadline, so the decision was made to reduce the scope of the design to a map showing where the facilities would be. The cost for such a project? $5,000.

The alteration did manage to save some substantial money -- the Alliance paid half of the $5,000 cost -- but there ended up being no rush to make the PARTF deadline.

The Alliance chose its park design plan Nov. 23, but just more than two weeks later the City Council determined the Alliance would not move forward with its application.

The city, instead, decided that the city would submit its Community Recreation Center project for the $500,000 grant and Mayor Pro Tem Chuck Allen went so far as to suggest the city not apply for the grant at all to avoid new expenses, despite then-City Manager Joe Huffman's confidence in 2006, when the application was first submitted, that the affordability of the park would be a "slam dunk" for the city.

Discussed just a week after the council was briefed on the city's financial report amid talks about a 5-cent tax increase to pay for the recreation center (and another 5- to 7-cent tax increase to pay for its operating expenses), the council was wary of taking on another costly project.

But the council's 5-2 decision to hire a contractor for $2,500 to write the PARTF grant application for the Community Recreation Center was a risky one as Huffman and Mrs. Shaw both told the council that the consultant had said the center would not be a strong competitor for funding in the grant process.

The council approved the recreation center application anyway, citing the loan the city will take out to build the center would be able to provide the $500,000 match, preventing the sapping of money from the general fund. The park project was estimated to cost about $200,000 while the recreation center project was priced at about $12 million.

In early January 2009, the council was preparing to receive bids on the recreation center, but opted to postpone it to wait until spring when news about the PARTF grant would be heard. To be eligible for the grant the project can't be in any construction phase. The city learned the project's grant application was denied later that year decided to delay the project in three-month increments until the city could afford it. The recreation center project was officially canceled in January 2011 after $1.2 million of investment into the plans for it.

But that left the Stoney Creek Park Alliance with the opportunity it had been waiting for: a second shot at the PARTF grant.

COMINGTUESDAY: What's next for the park project.