By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Master plans for both Rob Leake City Park and Theron Nichols Park include new splash pads, while Veterans Park will have a smaller replica of the Vietnam War Memorial.
Tupelo City Council members learned about future plans of the three city parks Tuesday during a work session that unveiled details and multiple-phase projects, altogether totaling $3.6 million.
Tupelo chief operations officer Don Lewis, recently promoted from director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, walked council members through the plans, which he said extend three to five years or longer for the parks.
Conversations about the master plans have been in the works for six months or more, Lewis said.
Among the biggest changes to parks in the city is a replica about 60 percent the size of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., planned at Veterans Park, estimated to cost $750,000 raised from mostly private support.
While the war memorial may be years away, depending on private fundraising, by Memorial Day next year, an F-105 aircraft will be displayed at the park. Mayor Jason Shelton said plans at the park have the potential to attract tourists to the city.
“I think it’ll have a tremendous economic impact to the city,” he said. “All of the parks projects are quality of life, but this one has the additional tourism impact.”
Neighborhood associations have approved plans for the parks, as did the city’s parks and recreation advisory board. Lewis said before the work session that he wanted council members to see the park plans as they continued to evaluate future city costs.
“The main purpose is to show them what we’re thinking, give them an idea of what it will cost and let them have information when they’re making decisions,” Lewis said. “It’s important as a city that we have plans for future growth.”
No specific method to fund the plans has been discussed, while preliminary discussions may involve dipping into the city’s $18.5 million unrestricted reserves or issuing bonds.
When the city’s $12 million aquatic center opens at Veterans Park later this year, the swimming pool at City Park in the central part of the city will be filled in. Plans in the city’s capital budget have installation of a $300,000 splash pad scheduled for fiscal year 2015. However, Lewis asked the council to consider speeding construction of it to this fiscal year.
Other changes to City Park include creating a new pavilion, additional landscaping and lighting. Another change, Lewis recommended the Rockwell Recreation Center in the northwest part of the park close at the end of December and be converted into a maintenance area for parks and recreation. Residents of the Joyner Neighborhood Association have requested it close, saying the center attracts criminal activity.
However, some City Council members said they weren’t convinced the facility should close, worried that people who use it may have problems finding an alternative.
“We’ll be cutting some people off who use it for the right purpose,” Lewis said. “But we’ll be addressing the request of the neighborhood.”
Willie Jennings of Ward 7 was among the few council members skeptical of closing it.
“We have to find a way to manage the safety part,” he said.
At Theron Nichols Park in southwest Tupelo, changes include creating a splash pad, a community center, pavilion and walking trail. While Lewis suggested the project be funded in Fiscal Year 2015, Councilman Jennings suggested the first phase, involving the splash pad, be completed this year.
“These are both good projects,” Jennings said. “Why wait another year to do them?”
Lewis said a master plan for Ballard Park in west Tupelo is still being finalized.