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Funding for new park sparks discussion

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The role of the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority in city planning became the topic of discussion following a progress report on a new East End Park.

Board members received an update on the park at the corner of Dixie and Nancy streets during Wednesday's meeting.

Ground will soon be broken on the first phase of the project, which will cost about $516,000 and will consist of an entryway into the park, a pavilion-like structure and spots for public art, such as sculptures.

But right now, no money has been allocated to pay for the second phase, which will entail the construction of a skate park, a splash ground and likely a circular walking trail.

The second phase will likely cost $200,000 to $250,000, said David Gilmore, senior land development service manager for GAI Consultants, the firm designing the park.

About $269,000 of the authority's own money has been allocated for the project, Executive Director Jim Edwards said. The group also spent about $667,000 to acquire the property and to demolish buildings on those parcels of land. 

The city allocated about $200,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding, Edwards said.

The remainder of the funds came in the form of in-kind contributions from the city, such as the cost of hauling dirt from the site. Private donations and state grants are also being used.

During the discussion, board member Diane Strong-Treister asked what other organizations were doing to try to raise funds to help finish the second phase of the project.

At the December meeting, Treister said the authority should not be the main source of funding for the entire deal.

Charleston Councilman Marc Weintraub, a Democrat who represents the East End, spoke up about his beliefs on the authority's role in urban renewal planning.

Weintraub believes the authority should take the lead and provide the majority of funds for projects in areas within the agency's urban renewal plan. He pointed out that the city does not have a full-time staff member dedicated to these types of works.

But the group does have a staff member who is responsible for overseeing projects, he said.

"There's no pot of money at the city for urban renewal," Weintraub said. "That's here."

The authority board members took no action on the issue since it was just up for discussion, but board member Lew Tyree briefly addressed Weintraub's statements later in the meeting.

Tyree believes the board members need to discuss the authority's role in urban renewal further.

"I'm not saying I'm against what I heard," Tyree said to Weintraub.

Board chairman Jack Cavender believes the authority needs to examine each and every idea individually to see what type of leadership and resources the agency should provide.

However, he said, the decision should not be made exclusively on the agency's return on investment. The authority should also attempt to secure funds from other sources as well.

"Whatever we're involved with, we have a fiscal responsibility to make sure we're using the assets we have in the best interest of the community," Cavender said.

The authority members also agreed to allocate $120,000 to help fund a streetscape project in the East End's warehouse district.

City leaders will apply for a $480,000 Transportation Enhancement grant to complete a streetscape on the north and south sides of Smith Street from Ruffner Avenue to Morris Street.

The state Division of Highways is building a new Division 1 headquarters along Smith Street. The state agency will construct a streetscape along its property.

However, there are gaps between the DOH property on the street and the city is responsible for picking up the tab for building the streetscape in these sections, said Susie Salisbury, a Republican councilwoman.

The entire project will run about $1.66 million. The city soon will apply for the $480,000 grant, Salisbury said.

The Transportation Enhancement grants will likely not be awarded for another year, she said. 

Contact writer Paul Fallon at paul.fallon@dailymail.com or 304-348-4817. Follow him at www.twitter.com/PaulBFallon.


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