The city’s purchase of the 320-acre Crane farm on the southeast fringe of Columbia will represent a major step in the creation of an “emerald necklace around the city,” Mayor Darwin Hindman said at a Tuesday news conference announcing the deal and outlining the city’s strategy for developing the park.
The Crane farm, which is adjacent to city-owned property surrounding Bristol Lake to the north and Rock Bridge Park to the west, is key to the goal of establishing a green ring that will include Nifong Park, Stephens Lake, Hinkson Woods, Grindstone Nature Area and a network of connecting trails.
Hindman and others also praised the pending purchase for its potential to preserve the environmentally sensitive Gans Creek, which carries special state protection because of its poor water quality and because it flows through Rock Bridge Park.
The city will pay $8,075,000 for the farm, or approximately $25,000 per acre. The city has been negotiating with the Crane family since 2003. It plans to pay for the park with a combination of parks sales tax proceeds, money from the parks capital fund and special obligation bonds. City officials plan to meet next week to iron out details of the financing.
“All these funds are from dedicated parks funds,” said City Manager Bill Watkins.
All that money, however, will do nothing more than secure the property. It will take years and millions more dollars to develop it into the regional park that city officials and others envision.
The council will formally introduce legislation authorizing the deal at its March 5 meeting and plans a public hearing and vote on March 19.
Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hood said planning for the park will begin “in the reasonably near future” and probably will take 18 months to two years. He promised that the public will get to share its dreams.
“There will be extensive opportunity for citizen input,” Hood said.
Hood said there are several factors that make the Crane property so desirable. It is an ideal place for a regional park because it will be able to safely handle heavy traffic when the planned interchange at Gans Road and U.S. 63 is built and, eventually, when Gans Road is extended west to connect with Providence Road. He also noted that the property is an open pasture that lends itself to easy planning, designing and development.
Hank Ottinger, who represented the Sierra Club at the news conference, said he’s happy about the plan because he believes the city’s ownership will protect Gans Creek.
“I’m encouraged and delighted by the news,” Ottinger said.
Representatives from the Diamond Council, Columbia Youth Football and Columbia Soccer Club also spoke of the need for another regional park, saying that their programs are expanding and that they need more fields.
“The national average shows that a city the size of Columbia should have two to three times the fields that Columbia has,” said Paul Bluff of the Diamond Council.
Because of the shortage in available playing fields, these organizations have had to shorten their seasons and limit the number of participants.
Chuck Everitt, who has been with Columbia Youth Football since the 1970s, said that his organization now has 24 teams but not enough space to practice.
“This project is an asset to Columbia Youth Football,” he said.
The city will not take possession of the Crane land until a year after the official closing on the deal. Officials said in a news release that they have not evaluated the question of whether the public will be able to use the property before it’s developed.
The Crane family will be allowed to live on the property until the city takes possession.
Sue Crane said at the news conference that the sale was difficult for her family because it has owned the farm for 130 years.
“This is a bittersweet moment for my family but we are pleased that our vision is the city’s vision for this property,” Crane said. “I hope and pray that this community will come to love this property as much as this family does.”