What started as a discussion over the possibility of a new basketball court at Sage Park, quickly became a defense of the projects selected for the city’s multi-million dollar capital improvement plan.

Timothy Hollis, a community activist and Seale Street resident, asked councilors to consider improving, or adding basketball facilities at other city parks in addition to the plans for a new court at Sage Park.

He said he was in favor of the basketball court at Sage (Herndon) Park, but added it seems that the park gets all the improvements. He specifically mentioned new bathrooms and new soccer and football fields at the park at the intersection of Dauphin Street and Sage Avenue.

For example, Hollis said Figures Park has a basketball court with two hoops. While they recently got new nets, one has “the same old backboard” and a bent pole. The pole issue makes one hoop two inches shorter than the other, which makes regulation basketball tournaments impossible, Hollis said.

Kidd Park in Africatown only has one hoop, he said.

Councilman Fred Richardson, who represents District 1, said he’d been fighting for basketball courts in city parks since he was elected to council. He said Sage Park needed the new court because residents can “play everything but basketball” there.

“There’s no way to construct a used basketball court,” Richardson said. “We have to construct a new one. The one at Figures Park was new. This one is new, but it won’t be once they play on it.”

Richardson added that the court at Figures Park was indoor with an “auditorium” and therefore can be used year-round. The proposed court at Sage is outdoor.

Councilman Joel Daves also defended the program. He said the city went years without making capital improvements and built up a $200,000 backlog. He asked for patience.

“We’re spending more now than in the previous six years,” Daves said. “The problem is people see a basketball court being put in and want one in every park. We can’t do it all in one year.”

A public hearing for the proposed basketball court is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 17 at 10:30 a.m. in the Government Plaza auditorium.

During his announcements, Richardson, like Daves, defended the choice of projects within the capital improvement program. He said the 1-cent sales tax increase that helped give the city the financial room to allow council to allocate funds for the CIP was put in place during the Sam Jones administration. Richardson said the money is allowing them to move forward on capital projects after years of delay.

“Citizens will ask ‘why are doing this now in the district when you’ve been there 20 years?,” Richardson said. “I never had a dime. We had the penny for a while before this bold council carved out money for the CIP.”

He said he asked residents where and for what he should spend the $9 million over three years. That’s why, he said, the CIP has spent $1 million for parks, $1 million for sidewalks in Crichton, $1 million for drainage repair in Midtown and other projects.

“Citizens told me that’s what they wanted to do,” Richardson said. “We can’t do everything, but we’re going to start with what the people wanted and then move on to something else.”

Councilman Levon Manzie also asked for patience, during his announcements. He added that District 2 had the greatest number of capital needs because the “community went years without adequate funding.”

In other business, the council approved use of grant funds to allow Feeding the Gulf Coast to provide hot meals to children at the city’s recreation and community centers. Feeding the Gulf Coast’s Nutrition Programs Director Kim Proctor Lawkins said the organization plans to serve after-school and summer meals in 12 of the city’s centers.

The council also approved a cooperation agreement with one of the Mobile Housing Board’s non-profit arms, Renaissance Properties, to allow for the conversion to the Rental Assistance Demonstration program. In addition to allow MHB to operate more like a private developer in attaining financing for future projects, RAD will also convert all of the organization’s low-income public housing to a Section 8 voucher program.