COLUMBIA — If everything goes as planned, the city could break ground on Columbia’s Southeast Regional Park as early as spring’s end. Just don’t expect the challenge of funding to be resolved any time soon.
The 460-acre park-to-be is made up of two tracts acquired by the city from separate land owners. Philips Lake Park, which lies south and west of U.S. 63 and north of Gans Road, was donated by Elvin Sapp, who insisted the land be named after its former owner, A. Perry Philips. And on the south side of Gans Road lies Gans Creek Recreation Area, sold to the city by the Crane family for $8.3 million in 2007.
What: Public planning meeting to discuss options for developing Columbia’s Southeast Regional Park.
When: 7 and 9 p.m. Wednesday and again on Jan. 7.
Where: Activity and Recreation Center, 1701 W. Ash St.
What else: There will also be opportunities for public comment through the city’s Web site, gocolumbiamo.com.
The first step for the Parks and Recreation Commission is getting the public to pick from a pair of proposed plans.
One is that of a typical regional park, similar to Cosmopolitan Park in northwest Columbia, said Mike Griggs, the department's recreation services manager. The current draft has 20 athletic fields, an RV park and a sizable equestrian area — a feature perhaps proposed with the Crane family in mind — on the combined Philips Lake and Gans Creek properties.
Option two has fewer athletic fields but includes a number of indoor facilities, including an indoor sports complex, an indoor/outdoor water park and an ice skating rink.
Neither is an all-or-nothing proposition.
“What we want is the citizens and public officials to look and see, ‘What are the priorities?’” Griggs said. “The best comment would be ‘Neither plan works well for me, but I really like these options in option one, and these options in option two.’”
The preliminary plans were made with perceived priorities in mind. Both are heavy on athletic facilities, a nod to the city’s need for basketball courts and baseball fields, and pricier components would only be built with potential revenue as a consideration. One such feature is the second option’s water park, which Griggs said could pay for itself if demand were high. Another is the skating rink, but voters already rejected a separate proposal to build one near the Activity and Recreation Center in November 2005.
The city has $250,000 budgeted for the park’s first phase of development, money gleaned from a one-eighth cent sales tax approved in 2005. But if even half the park’s proposed features are to be realized, the city will need to cover a funding gap that probably would reach into the millions.
“Without a doubt there’s going to be a challenge,” Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hood said. “The key thing on that is that this is a large regional park — it won’t all be built at once, it’ll be built in phases.”
In fact, the timeline for a park of this magnitude could be measured best in decades. The Cosmo Park, the city’s largest at 533 acres, has been in a seemingly perpetual state of development since its creation nearly 60 years ago.
“The challenge will be to fund each phase as it comes along,” Hood said.
The most likely avenue for additional funding is an extension of the park sales tax after it expires in 2011. Another option would be for voters to authorize an increase in the tax prior to its expiration, but Griggs said that historically, that isn’t how it’s done.
“What we like to do is keep the sales tax as it is, and then if they extend it, it’s not an increase in sales tax,” he said. “Especially in this economy right now, (park funding) is maybe not a priority on a lot of the voters’ minds.”
One feature the two proposals have in common is a fishing area to be built on Philips Lake, funded in part by a Missouri Department of Conservation grant worth $157,500. The city will use $52,500 from its park development budget to match the grant and may spend more as dictated by council and public input.
At a bare minimum, Griggs said, the city will build a parking lot with enough space for 10 regular vehicles plus 10 more with trailers. There will also be a boat ramp, a dock and restrooms. The department would like to add a perimeter lake trail, a picnic shelter and a playground, but everything is open for debate.
The department plans to have the fishing area open by fall 2009, but that first will require permission from the Planning and Zoning Commission and the City Council.
The two options will be discussed at public planning meetings between 7 and 9 p.m. Wednesday and again on Jan. 7. Both meetings will be at the ARC, 1701 W. Ash St. There will also be opportunities for public comment through the city’s Web site, gocolumbiamo.com.