A proposal by Mayor Sandy Stimpson for $1.9 million in citywide park improvements comes with a catch for the Mobile City Council.
At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Stimpson said the improvements proposed for at least one park in each of the city’s seven districts can only be realized if councilors rescind a $1.5 million pledge they made to the Mobile County Commission last year to contribute toward funding a proposed soccer complex.
Stimpson’s proposed park improvements include an estimated $300,000 at Herndon Park in District 1 for new restrooms and $475,000 at Maitre Park in District 3 for new lights.
In District 2, Stimpson wants to spend $145,000 for a resurfacing project of Lyons Park tennis courts. Additionally, Stimpson said the park’s stormwater gutters would be replaced.
In District 4, Stimpson wants to spread $75,000 across two parks. The money would be used for new bleachers at Dog River Park, as well as new fencing and dugouts at Theodore park
Stimpson wants to add restrooms and a dog park to Public Safety Memorial park in District 5 for $300,000. In District 6, Stimpson is proposing to add a permanent structure for use as a tennis pro shop for $300,000 and in District 7, Stimpson’s proposal includes shade structures at both Hillsdale and Langan parks for $100,000.
Stimpson said the improvements were based on a six-month process, which included the work of a consultant and speaking with councilors about what improvements they’d like to see in each park. Stimpson said this is just the beginning of planned improvements for the parks. Stimpson said these proposals are part of a $10 million backlog in improvements.
During fiscal year 2015 budget negotiations in September of last year, councilors voted 5-2 to take $1.5 million of the $3 million Stimpson had budgeted for park improvements and put it toward the county’s $20 million soccer complex project. Joel Daves and John Williams were the lone dissenting votes.
Mobile County Commission President Connie Hudson said in a statement Wednesday she was disappointed by Stimpson’s proposal.
“I frankly don’t understand his reasoning, because the citizens of the Mobile community have been begging for these soccer tournament facilities for more than two decades,” she wrote. Obviously, a majority of the commission and the city council believe it’s a priority project, not only to address the needs of our citizens, but to have a 10-field state-of-the-art tournament facility that will have a very significant economic impact here on our community.” It’s my belief that the majority of the Mobile City Council will stand strong on their commitment and will support this amenity for the benefit of their constituents.”
Councilwoman Bess Rich, who represents District 6, said she still supports the county’s soccer complex, despite Stimpson’s proposals.
“I’m an advocate of having tournament soccer fields in one place,” she said. “The idea the county is working on is a win-win …”
Rich said she’s aware of the need for soccer facilities in the city and still supports the idea of the complex, near the intersection of Interstates 10 and 65.
Although Stimpson said at the press conference that Executive Director of Public Works Bill Harkins had met with councilors previously about park improvements, Councilman Fred Richardson said he had not spoken to anyone from the administration about parks.
Richardson called Stimpson’s proposal a political ploy and hinted that with $3 million in capital money coming to each district due the renewal of a sales tax increase, he’d be able to build new bathrooms in Herndon Park anyway.
Council President Gina Gregory wrote in an email message Tuesday afternoon that the county is “weeks away” from purchasing land for the soccer complex and that’s what the $1.5 million the council set aside was to be used for.
Gregory added that she has plans to make park improvements with the additional $3 million in capital funds available to her office, during the next fiscal year.
Daves, of District 5, and Williams, of District 4, both said they are still opposed to giving money to the county complex.
Daves said with the recent addition of a new skate park, there is a lot more activity in Public Safety Memorial Park than in the past. He also said a dog park would be a good addition.
Williams said he opposes giving money for the complex this year because it’s not one of the “immediate needs” for parks. He also said there will be many years between now and when the soccer complex is built.
Williams said if Stimpson introduces this proposal to the council he’d support it.
Jason Johnson contributed to this report.
This story was updated Wednesday afternoon to include comments from Commission President Connie Hudson.