City ponders land purchase at Winged Deer

Gary B. Gray • Dec 7, 2013 at 3:28 PM

City commissioners are looking into the possible purchase of 30 acres of land near Winged Deer Park.

Roger Blakeley, Johnson City Parks and Recreation Department director, introduced a proposal to commissioners Thursday in which the city potentially could buy the property off U.S. Highway 11E/Bristol Highway for expanded recreational use at the city park.

The department is putting together information on the need for additional ball fields and the possible availability of land near the park and will communicate this to the City Commission at its Dec. 19 meeting.

Blakeley said a developer who owns 37 acres west of the park has an option on the land that ends at year’s end. The 30 acres could be had for $13,500 an acre, but the developer still intends to build apartments on the remaining acres.

Commissioners asked that City Manager Pete Peterson and Public Works Director Phil Pindzola take a closer look at the land’s status, including verification of price and costs for grading and other work. More information should be available in a few weeks.

“Really what we’re doing here is considering whether we want to make this purchase, and that’s all,” Commissioner David Tomita said Friday. “I don’t want anyone out there to think we have a plan in place, because this would be a $5 million to $6 million project. I don’t think we’re anywhere near ready to embark on anything other than learning more about a potential purchase, whether it be for general recreational use, softball fields or whatever.

Tomita and fellow Commissioner Jenny Brock said the per-acre price was enticing. They also both said the land is on a hill that would have to be excavated, and the cost of preparing it may be too much.

“It certainly is a good piece of property at a very reasonable price, but right now we’re just looking into it further,” Brock said. “We’ve asked for more information on it, and one of the biggest concerns is how much it would cost to excavate the land.”

Though the property is on the same side of U.S. 11E and near the park, a church sits between the two. Brock said she has learned the church would be willing to work with the city and allow access from Winged Deer to the newly developed land if a deal should be struck.

Established in 1991, Winged Deer Park is a 200-acre district park that hosts a burgeoning number of softball leagues and tournaments. The park’s current softball complex includes five fields with a 400-vehicle parking capacity. The fifth field was completed in 1999.

Major events held at Winged Deer Park’s softball facilities include the USA/ASA Girl’s 10 and Under Fast Pitch National Championships (2003, 2005, 2009, 2011) and the USA/ASA Girl’s 14 and Under Fast Pitch National Championships (2006).

Other amenities at Winged Deer include three lighted soccer fields, Batter’s Up batting cages, an 18-hole disc golf course, playground area, soccer concession building, half-mile walking track and paved fitness trails, which wind through the forested section of the park.

The lakefront area features two sand volleyball courts, picnic shelter with restroom, public boating access, green space, lighted handicapped-accessible boardwalk, amphitheater and a Festival Plaza multi-use area with restroom. The park’s historical area features the Robert Young Cabin — one of Johnson City’s oldest dwellings — the Massengil Monument and the James H. Quillen Historical Tree Arboretum.

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