City commissioners nix land purchase near Winged Deer Park

Gary B. Gray • Dec 19, 2013 at 9:54 PM

City commissioners took a good hard look Thursday at what it would cost the city to buy 30 acres of land near Winged Deer Park, prepare the site, install retaining walls, build an access road and construct four new softball fields.

Their collective conclusion: It’s a good idea, it’s just not the right time to do it.

There was no up or down vote on the acquisition. Nor was there a deferral. The fact of the matter is that a lengthy discussion resulted in a bit of a financial wake-up call.

“If it is your desire to acquire 30 acres here under the current economic situation we’re in without an increase in revenue, you’re not going to have the money to build these fields for five to six years,” said City Manager Pete Peterson. “You’re looking at 2020 before we would be able to issue the debt to build the fields.”

Those remarks started a roughly 40-minute brainstorming session in which the goal was to locate funding for what is estimated to be a potential $6.1 million endeavour. The land, which is selling at a very reasonable $13,500 per acre, would cost $405,000, grading and site prep would require about $2.7 million and the new ball fields and amenities would cost $3 million, bringing the tally to a level commissioners just were not comfortable with.

Parks and Recreation Director Roger Blakeley first introduced the proposal to commissioners on Dec. 5 in which the city potentially could buy the property off U.S. Highway 11E/Bristol Highway for expanded recreational use at the city park.

On Thursday, City Engineer Allan Cantrell presented an estimated cost of preparing the site.

“During the past few weeks we were able to locate a previous boring (drilling measurements) report that showed the property does have some rock underneath a portion of it,” he said while displaying a rendering of the site with four ball fields sketched in. “The price has gone up based on the new information, and this is for rough grading only.”

Vice Mayor Clayton Stout was visibly and vocally uncomfortable with the escalating costs.

“As much as I see acquiring property for the city to be advantages, I still don’t know — there’s still a lot of ‘what ifs,’ ” he said. “I don’t feel comfortable making a call on this tonight.”

The conversation switched gears, with Stout asking Peterson a very direct question,

“I want to know specifically what we’re taking money from to pay for this,” he asked.

“If we take it (the $405,000) from our operating budget, we’re going to lose police cars and school buses,” Peterson replied.

He also said “we” — presumably meaning the city — had not yet talked with the person holding the option on the property.”

And so it went. The fields could be placed at Keefauver Farm, and the money no longer going toward paying off that property could help pay the debt. But that would take money away from current and planned projects. Perhaps the city could go ahead and buy the land and complete the project when it had the cash. The open area at Winged Deer that fronts Boone Lake also was considered for two fields.

“It’s more desirable to have it together,” Blakeley said about keeping the fields in proximity to Winged Deer. “But if it’s all we had, we’d do the best with what we had.”

The further this discussion lingered, the easier it was for commissioners to reach a conclusion.

Commissioner Jenny Brock made it brief: “Now is not a great time to commit to the project.”

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