Supporters plan park's next steps
By Ty Johnson
Published in News on December 6, 2011 1:46 PM
The Stoney Creek Park Alliance's failure to get Parks and Recreation Trust Fund money to pay for its intended plan for Stoney Creek Park in its first few years of existence sharpened its members' resolve and gave it experience in grant-seeking.
That experience paid off when then-Parks and Recreation Director Ruben Wall applied for the PARTF grant this year.
But by the time the city received word in May that it had received the grant for $132,750, Wall's position had been vacant for nearly two months.
Then-interim Parks and Recreation Director Sherry Archibald announced the department had received the grant, but she allowed the Alliance to determine the pace of the renovations -- renovations that stalled concerning issues as rudimentary as bathroom placement.
That's not to say that the park hasn't made progress in the years since the Alliance began work to make the greenspace a community asset. It now boasts an 18-hole disc golf course and a dog park, albeit one that will require registration and an annual fee beginning in January.
But the biggest changes due at the park were to come from the grant funds obtained through the PARTF at the behest of the Alliance.
Disputes about the facilities, however, hindered progress.
District 2 Councilman Bob Waller, a member of the Alliance, said in July that the original plan for the park was to have bathrooms at the Ash Street entrance, near the parking lot.
But that area, where Federal Emergency Management Agency restrictions prevent even the parking lot from being concrete, is within the floodplain, so nothing can be built there. The bathroom, which the Alliance has identified as the priority structure for the park's improvement plan, was drawn up to be on the north side of Walnut Street across from the dog park in the PARTF grant application, but concerns from Alliance members -- mostly those who live near the park -- led to another move.
Alliance member Peter Roethling said visibility was necessary to deter vagrants, although Waller, whose home would be less than 100 yards from the bathroom facility, said vagrants would be an issue wherever the bathroom went. He wanted to move the bathroom back to the Ash Street parking lot, but felt the location on the grant application was fine if it wasn't possible.
Other members of the group weren't convinced, including John Casey, who lives on Randolph Street near the park. He said he had had too many things stolen from his home for him to support having a public bathroom facility "tucked behind the hedges."
Discussions about moving the bathroom closer to the children's climbing area led to a compromise -- splitting the difference between the two spots.
But that was in late July -- nearly a full month since the first amount of grant funds had been distributed -- and no true decision had been made.
Much of the reason for the delay, and truly for the park's slow, sometimes stagnant, development in the decade since Hurricane Floyd, has been because of a lack of consistency at the helm of the Parks and Recreation Department.
When Scott Barnard was hired to head the department in August, he became the sixth person to hold that position since 2008.
Such turnover at the top hardly makes for an ideal situation to build a park, but Barnard seems convinced he's going to be around for a while and made certain that his department would be active in Stoney Creek Park's development.
The only thing in question now, however, concerns the Stoney Creek Park Alliance's future role within the park's development.
The Stoney Creek Park Development Committee formed to turn the city's newly acquired floodplain -- rendered useless for residential or industrial purposes due to flooding and a FEMA declaration -- into a park that the community could be proud of.
When that group transitioned into the Stoney Creek Alliance, its purpose was to collect funding for the park's rehabilitation -- estimated to cost about $2 million at the time.
A $500,000 grant, plus a $500,000 city match would leave the Alliance with about $1 million of fundraising to do, but when the scope of the park project changed, the price shrank.
The project that won the PARTF grant is one that can be done solely with the $265,500 through the combined grant and the city match -- a far cry from $2 million.
The project will install bathroom facilities at the park as well as picnic shelters, a beach volleyball area and an amphitheater.
The location of the bathrooms threw a wrench in the grant plans as Alliance members were split on where to put them, but Barnard, at the Oct. 20 meeting of the Alliance, said the bathrooms would go near the site proposed on the grant. A move too far, such as to Ash Street, would require paperwork to be resubmitted and delay the facility's installation further. Barnard has also since said that he is not sure if an amphitheater is possible within the park, either, since it would require cutting down trees.
Waller again reminded the Alliance that the City Council had said it preferred the Ash Street location, although, as then-Parks and Recreation Director David Carter said in 2009, FEMA guidelines prohibit the use of asphalt and concrete in the park -- the reason why the parking lot of Ash Street near where the bathroom was proposed is make of crush and run granite. Structures also aren't allowed to be constructed so close to the creek in the floodplain.
Barnard then mentioned the notion of merging the Alliance with the Recreation and Park Advisory Commission -- a city standing committee -- saying the Commission was a stronger organization, but Alliance members said they wanted the maintain the status quo at least until the end of the park grant project.
"I asked the Alliance what they saw their role being in the park's future," Barnard recalled. "They want to see the project through, then they're not sure where they'll go. They may stay where they are, expand or transition."
But it's not that Barnard doesn't appreciate or understand the role the park alliance has played in creating Stoney Creek Park -- he sees that the park largely wouldn't exist without it.
"They're a good example of what citizens, focused, can do. Without them, there would be no disc golf, no dog park, no grant -- these things wouldn't exist," he said.
The discussion centered on the actual standing of the group, as it is a start-up non-profit organization under the Wayne County Charitable Partnership -- an incubator for non-profits. The Partnership has spawned such stand-alone organizations as Crimestoppers, the Daffodil Festival and Literacy Connection and now has decided to roll out the Alliance to stand on its own.
"The whole thing was helping start-up organizations until they got legs on their own," Wayne County Chamber of Commerce President Marian Mason said. "(The Alliance) demonstrated they're strong, and we've rolled them out."
But without solid financial footing, can the Alliance truly stand on its own?
The Alliance, assuming it has a quorum at its next meeting, is scheduled to vote on its alternatives, whether remaining a separate entity, joining the Recreation and Parks Advisory Commission, or becoming a sub-committee of that commission.
Discussions at the meeting led to a talk about sponsorships and the fact that the Alliance has no money coming in, plus the ambiguity of the group's makeup. Although it's a separate entity, the City Council still confirms appointments to the Alliance's board.
Those issues and more will be tackled in the Alliance meetings to come, but Barnard will continue to move forward with the PARTF project, including the bathrooms, and it seems the Alliance will be a part of the process, though its future role in the park might be changing.