Raleigh may put $91.78 million parks bond issue before city voters

ccampbell@newsobserver.comJune 6, 2014 

— City Council members voiced initial support Tuesday for putting $91.78 million in parks bonds to a referendum this November.

The unanimous vote Tuesday asked city staff to pursue the largest of three possible bond packages, which would fund a $12.5 million renovation at Chavis Park, a $12 million community center at Baileywick Park in Northwest Raleigh and $6 million to replace the Pullen Arts Center.

The proposed bond issue won’t be finalized until later this summer, and the council wants to consider adding funding for a new whitewater park on Falls Lake. If the total amount doesn’t change, the parks funding would require a 1.72-cent property tax increase starting in 2015.

The increase would mean the owner of a $300,000 home would pay about $51 more each year.

And while all council members voted to move forward with the bond proposal, Councilman Thomas Crowder said he wants to make sure the funds would help fix up Raleigh’s aging facilities. Crowder has been lobbying for major renovations to outdated neighborhood centers such as one on Powell Drive in Southwest Raleigh.

“I’m concerned that a lot of those have been around since the ’70s or earlier and are really showing wear and tear,” Crowder said. “There are a lot of facilities out there, and it seems like we’re just touching on a few of those.”

The proposed $91.78 million bond package includes renovation money for three community centers: Brentwood, Kiwanis and Eastgate. But it leaves out Powell Drive, Glen Eden and Method Road neighborhood centers, which also date to the 1970s and ’80s.

Parks planner Stephen Bentley said the bond package is largely focused on maintaining existing facilities. It includes $2.5 million to replace playground equipment, $7.2 million for greenway improvements and $5 million to upgrade the Walnut Creek Athletic Complex.

“The only new facility we are actually adding is Baileywick” Community Center, Bentley said.

The bond package leaves out plenty of projects on Raleigh’s wish list, which would require an additional $300 million to complete. That list was pared down and prioritized based on 16 months of public input through the Parks and Recreation System Plan, which was completed earlier this year.

The planned Falls Whitewater Park doesn’t appear on the $300 million list, but Councilman Bonner Gaylord said to consider adding it to the bond request.

Bentley said plans for Forest Ridge Park – also located on Falls Lake – are further along, and Raleigh has been working for years with the Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the lake. “We would like that to move forward before we move forward with the whitewater park,” he said.

Supporters of the whitewater park came to Tuesday’s council meeting to lobby for the project. Led by WRAL meteorologist Elizabeth Gardner, they’ve launched a nonprofit to raise private funds for the park. A 2011 study pegged the cost of the park at about $2.8 million. The plan calls for building a whitewater course for canoes and kayaks on the Neuse River just below the Falls Dam.

Another wild card in park funding discussions is the Dorothea Dix property. City and state officials are still negotiating a new deal for Raleigh to acquire the property for a park. The city’s latest offer says the purchase is contingent on bond financing, and Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin has said Dix funding would likely go before voters. But if an agreement isn’t reached soon, the Dix funds couldn’t go on the ballot until next year.

The City Council will discuss the bond issue for parks again at its next meeting June 17 and will likely schedule a public hearing in July.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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