A Leadership Mobile group is looking to spruce up some of the city’s signature open spaces through a new initiative known as the Downtown Parks Conservancy. Melissa Rankin, a downtown resident and one of nine founding members of the group, said members have secured pledges totaling around $120,000 for improvements and have ideas for two projects at Bienville Square to kick things off. The group’s slogan is “We Believe in Bienville.”
“There are a lot of communities that would kill for this type of space,” Rankin said. “It doesn’t need to just be a walk-through, or a pass-through, but more than that.”
Before developing a master plan, the group wants to simply hang planters from the light fixtures at the park and add lights to the park’s oak trees, Rankin said.
“It would make it more welcoming and safe to sit in the park,” she said.
While those two projects were chosen for their relative ease, Rankin said the group’s main goal is to develop a master plan for all parks within the Hank Aaron Loop.
She said the group has partnered with Assistant Director of Parks and Recreation Matthew Capps, as well as Carol Hunter with the Downtown Mobile Alliance and Bill Barrick from Bellingrath Gardens.
For founding member William Hanes, improving the parks is a quality-of-life issue.
“Most agree we need to improve the quality of life in the city,” he said. “Studies show healthy parks help bring up property values.”
Hanes said the group will also be seeking public input on future plans, adding that he’s been “encouraged” by the response to the group’s efforts thus far.
Kellie Hope, another founding member, said in addition to the two immediate projects, the group will also organize regular cleanups at downtown parks.
Last Thursday, June 18, the group held its inaugural event, “Business in Bienville.” Hope said future events will include “Tailgate in Bienville,” where football fans can celebrate the passing of the pigskin, and “Boiling in Bienville,” which will include an afternoon of crawfish and music.
Rankin, president of the DeTonti Square Neighborhood Association, said the group would be focusing on Bienville Square, Cathedral Square, British Park, Spanish Plaza, Isom Park, Malaga Square, Cooper Riverside Park, Ryan Park and DeTonti Square Park. She said the city’s proposed Mardi Gras Park would not be an immediate focus.
In November, Mayor Sandy Stimpson unveiled plans to transform a vacant lot on the corner of Royal and Government streets into an open-air, French-style market and a Mardi-Gras-themed park.
Funding for the park is already in place, Stimpson said in November, with $2 million coming from a public-private partnership. Half the money is budgeted through the city and the other half is coming from the Hearin-Chandler Foundation through the Mobile Carnival Association.
The city has a lease with the county for Mardi Gras Park that expires in November. The city must begin construction by that time or the property will revert to county control.
Laura Byrne, a spokeswoman for Stimpson said tweaks are currently being made to the Mardi Gras Park design, following two public meetings. Once the design has been finalized, plans will move to the City Council for approval. Byrne said there’s no set timetable for when a council vote might occur, but added the administration is confident it will be the November deadline.
Parks have been a hot political topic recently as Stimpson proposed some $1.9 million in improvements to parks throughout each of the city’s seven districts. However, he said the improvements were dependent upon the City Council rescinding a $1.5 million pledge that had been taken out of the capital budget and set aside to help Mobile County purchase land for a proposed $20 million soccer complex near the intersection of interstates 10 and 65.
However, the five councilors who support the county’s soccer complex appear to have been unconvinced by the mayor’s ultimatum. Some even accused Stimpson of playing politics with the park improvements. At a recent council meeting, separate votes reaffirming support for the soccer complex and on the mayor’s parks proposal were both held over.
More information about the Downtown Parks Conservancy is available at downtownparksconservancy.org.