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Parks Commission votes to lease Shawnee

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Shawnee Park is one step closer to being managed by the city of Dunbar.

Members of the Kanawha County Parks and Recreation Commission voted to give Parks Director Jeff Hutchinson and Commission Vice President Allen Tackett the authority to sign a lease agreement with Dunbar at a meeting Thursday.

The lease will likely be for 20 years, and can be reviewed annually by the parks commission to monitor how Dunbar operates the park. The parks commission will retain ownership of property.

"This is a lease of the park," said Parks Commission President Anna Dailey. "It's not a deed."

The tentative plan is for the lease to be effective Feb. 1.

Tackett, who helped form the agreement, said he thinks the lease is a win for everyone involved.

"The city of Dunbar is anxious to take over the entire operation of Shawnee Park," he said. "I think they're going to do a good job with the park."

Once parks commission attorneys finalize the lease, it will need to be approved by Dunbar's city council before it can take effect.

Dunbar Mayor Terry Greenlee said later Thursday he's looking forward to the city managing the park.

"There's just a whole lot that can be done to bring more activity there," he said.

Greenlee said the city could host more events at the park and will also likely look into finding a tenant for the restaurant space in the park's clubhouse.

"It gives us a new avenue to being people into the area," Greenlee said.

The future of Shawnee Park has been on the parks commission's agenda for the last few months. Dunbar has operated the Shawnee Park pool for the last two seasons and expressed interest in taking over the whole park.

Before Dunbar, West Virginia State University operated the pool for four years.

Shawnee Park is sandwiched between Dunbar and West Virginia State. The park is separated from Dunbar's current city limits by only a few blocks of homes and businesses to the east, and to the west, West Virginia State is also largely separated from the park by just a few blocks of homes.

In addition to the pool, the park also has a nine-hole golf course, a playground, picnic shelters and other recreational facilities.

Last month, the parks commission met with Dunbar Mayor Terry Greenlee and West Virginia State University Vice President for Business and Finance Melvin Jones to discuss options for the park.

A committee created to study the idea of leasing the park to one or both entities met on Dec. 3. From that meeting, the committee recommended Dunbar lease the park.

"West Virginia State University is not set up right now (to take over the park)," Tackett said.

Still, the parks commission said it wanted a memorandum of understanding to be drafted between Dunbar and West Virginia State to protect the interests of both entities.

Parks Director Jeff Hutchinson said he hasn't spoken to employees about the change yet because he wanted to wait until the parks commission made a decision.

Current Shawnee Park employees are expected to be able to keep their jobs, though Dunbar will employ them instead of the parks commission. Hutchinson said he would like to see park employees retain their seniority during the transfer to Dunbar.

"I think it'll be a good thing," Hutchinson said.

Greenlee also said the city will keep current park employees.

"They're knowledgeable ... and I'm not up to put anybody out of a job," Greenlee said.

The parks commission also discussed the future of the Shawnee Park Foundation, a non-profit group created in 2011 for donations to the park. However, the foundation's state license was revoked in 2012 for failure to file its annual report.

Parks commission President Anna Dailey said as it turns out, no donations were ever put into the foundation. She said if Dunbar doesn't want the foundation, she would like to see it gone.

"If the group does not see a need for it, then I'd like to go ahead and dissolve it," she said.

Greenlee said he would send the proposed lease to Dunbar city council members for review once he receives the document. Once city council approves the lease at an upcoming meeting, it will need to be signed by Dunbar and parks commission officials before taking effect.

Contact writer Matt Murphy at Matt.Murphy@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-4817. Follow him on Twitter @DMLocalGov and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ DailyMailLocalGov


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