The city’s plan to transform a patch of green space downtown into a Carnival-themed park came one step closer to reality when no speaker opposed the project at a public hearing held during Tuesday’s Mobile City Council meeting.
Only two speakers addressed the council about the proposed Mardi Gras park during the hearing, and both were in favor of the project. Beverly Gibson, dean at Christ Church Cathedral, said she was excited about the plans and looked forward to helping to welcome visitors to the city at the park bound by Church, Royal and Government streets.
The project will be broken down into two phases, each costing about $2 million. The first phase will include the installation of benches, a retaining wall, steps, parking and landscaping improvements, according to Director of Real Estate Asset Management Brad Christensen.
The first phase also includes the development of a group of Carnival-themed statutes — a condition an almost $980,000 appropriation given to the city for the development of the park by the Hearin-Chandler Foundation through the Mobile Carnival Association.
The other roughly $1.2 million needed for the park’s first phase, drew questions from Councilman Fred Richardson.
The money for the park had initially been budgeted in 2008, but after sitting unused for three years, it was moved to an economic development account to help pay for a Michigan Avenue bridge improvement project for Airbus, according to Finance Director Paul Wesch.
Richardson initially took issue with moving money out of economic development funds, in case they’re needed this year to attract more industry to the city. Wesch explained that the amount of money transferred would be equal to the amount taken out for the bridge project. Wesch told Richardson the economic development account had roughly $2.2 million in it for 2016.
Richardson made clear he supported the project.
The second phase of the project is planned to include the construction of a pavilion, more benches and more landscaping work to an elevated portion of the property. During an initial announcement of the park, Stimpson’s administration estimated the total cost at $2 million.
Councilman Joel Daves made a reference to challenges that drove the price up, during the pre-conference meeting on Tuesday.
Although it appeared many of the councilors were in favor of the park project, votes on contracts to begin the work were held over one week, per council rules.
Daves said the project is important for the downtown area because it can be used as a hub around other amenities. Councilman Levon Manzie, who sponsored the resolutions to put the contracts on the agenda, also gave vocal support to the project.
The issue is time sensitive, as work must begin by Thanksgiving Day, or the lease between the county and city expires. The council expects to vote on the contracts next week, meaning work would have to begin by the following day.
In other business, the council tabled a resolution adopting the administration’s planning guidelines called Map for Mobile on the advice of the council’s attorney Jim Rossler, who advised councilors that adoption wasn’t legally necessary following an approval from the Mobile Planning Commission.
The vote to table passed 6-0, with Councilwoman Bess Rich abstaining. Both Rich and Councilman John Williams said they were “disappointed” the council didn’t endorse the plan, but Council President Gina Gregory said the council does endorse the plan, but tabled the motion because it isn’t necessary at this time.
Also, during the meeting Stimpson announced the city’s portable ice skating rink at Cooper Riverside Park, called Riverside Ice, had attracted more than 1,000 skaters since it opened on Saturday.