UPDATE: City Council members on Thursday said the city was pulling the plug on its plan to build a west-side recreation center in the 8.5-acre Cleveland Park in the 1600 block of First Avenue West.
City Council member Ann Poe, who is co-chair of the city’s site selection task force for the rec center, said that she and other members of the task force and council had heard the message from the 100-plus neighbors living around Cleveland Park who turned out at a special neighborhood meeting on Tuesday evening to object to a rec center in Cleveland Park.
“(We) … heard pretty loudly and clearly that the neighbors really don’t want the rec center in ‘their’ neighborhood park,” Poe said. “So we listened to them.”
Gaylon Heetland, of 1533 Eighth Ave. SW, who helped rally the Cleveland Park neighbors before the Tuesday meeting with the city, on Thursday said the neighbors appreciated that Mayor Ron Corbett and most of the other City Council members came out to listen to the neighbors.
“We felt actually going out of there, we felt quite hopeful that they heard us,” Heetland said. “And that they realized that they weren’t giving us a rec center, they were taking our park. I just don’t think they quite realized what the park meant to us. And after 140 people showed up Tuesday night, I think they do now.”
Poe, who grew up along the Cedar River in the Ellis Park area, said she spent Wednesday visiting seven potential sites — some suggested by the Cleveland Park neighbors — for the new rec center, which will replace the flood-ruined and now-demolished Time Check Recreation Center.
She said she now thinks the perfect site is one that has recently been under serious consideration by the task force — the spot next to Ellis Park that currently is home to the park’s maintenance shop.
The task force set this option aside because of the additional task of finding a new place for the maintenance facility and the extra money needed to do so. However, Poe said the city could move the maintenance operation elsewhere with a little “creativity.”
“If you sit back and look at that location, it’s absolutely lovely,” Poe said of the Ellis maintenance site. “It’s very, very pretty. The rec center could nestle nicely there.”
She said the Ellis maintenance shop site meets many of the long-standing criteria of the task force for the rec center: it’s out of the 100-year flood plain; it’s accessible to busy streets, Ellis Boulevard NW and Edgewood Road NW; and it’s next to all the existing Ellis Park amenities, which include swimming pool, tennis courts, softball fields, basketball courts and the entire park itself. Residents around Ellis Park who objected to putting the rec center in Ellis Park have not objected to the maintenance shop site next to the park, she said.
There was no rush to agreement, though.
Council member Chuck Swore said he now favored building the rec center at a previously considered site — next to Harrison Elementary School, 1310 11th St. NW, where the city and school could use it together.
Council member Kris Gulick, though, said he wanted to dust off the city’s 2010 parks master plan that calls for rec centers in the city’s major parks, including Ellis Park.
Council member Monica Vernon said she wasn’t ruling anything out, but her preference was a central spot near children and seniors, she said.
Poe is heading up the city’s second site selection task force along with Dale Todd, a former City Council member and parks commissioner, in the city’s attempt to pick a site to build a rec center to replace the flood-ruined and now-demolished Time Check Recreation Center.
The exercise, which continues nearly five years after the 2008 flood, has been a political swampland as the Northwest Neighbors Neighborhood Association has wanted the new rec center near the old one; residents around the nearby Ellis Park have objected to it being in Ellis Park; and the Federal Emergency Management Agency insisted it not be built in the 100-year flood plain
Todd on Thursday agreed that the Cleveland Park idea wasn’t going to work, adding that putting in a rec center in an established neighborhood is going to meet stiff opposition every time.
“The irony is that this is where the kids and seniors are,” Todd said.
The City Council is feeling pressure to meet a FEMA timeline so the city doesn’t lose access to $3 million in FEMA disaster funds for the rec center project. However, Joe O’Hern, the city’s flood-recovery chief, said Thursday that the city can ask for a deadline extension from FEMA.