At the corner of Briargate Parkway and Union Boulevard sits 108 acres of rolling prairie meadow . It’s mostly grasses and a few trees. The south fork of Pine Creek meanders through it.
For 20 years, it has been envisioned as a community park with pavilions, sports fields, courts and other amenities.
It was billed as a place where people from the region would gather, as compared to neighborhood parks designed to serve a limited area.
But for now, and the forseeable future, it will remain a field — a place for joggers, for watching birds and other wildlife, for dogs to run.
And it will remain a huge disappointment to people like Cathy Post, a librarian at Academy International Elementary School, who moved to the surrounding neighborhood 12 years ago thinking her family would enjoy the huge park.
She even got her students involved in the planning process. They wrote letters, drew pictures and even attended a City Council meeting to urge approval of the park. When it finally given the go-ahead, she raced back to school and made an announcement over the PA system to celebrate. Her students, she said, were so happy.
The park was so close to becoming a reality it started showing up on maps as “John Venezia Park” — named for the developer of the area. But it’s just a field.
Plans are impressive. They call for 30 acres to be developed and the remaining 78 or so to be left as open space to protect habitat for the endangered Preble’s meadow jumping mouse. Here’s a look at the blueprints.
The money was a combination of $700,000 from the Trails, Open Space and Parks tax and $1 million from a fund created by fees developers pay in lieu of building neighborhood parks, says Sarah Bryarly of the cityparks department.
Rather than build it in phases, the city decided to use a funding mechanism called “Certificates of Participation.” They are sold to investors and paid off over several years, like bonds.
Now, no money exists for new parks. The city’s sales tax revenues have collapsed, forcing City Council to slash the parks department budget, along with others.
But not everyone is ready to give up. Cathy is determined to keep hope alive for Venezia Park.
Prospects for the park are not good.
Bryarly said construction could start immediately if money was available.
But Kurt Schroeder, a parks department official, said even if the city could find $9.5 million to build it, there’s no money for ongoing maintenance.
His agency’s budget has been slashed by 80 percent and it’s not likely to be restored anytime soon. Absent a windfall, Venezia will remain on the shelf.
“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to add facilities if we don’t have maintenance money,” Schroeder said.
Here’s a link to the city’s community parks web site for more information.
And here’s a Feb. 26, 2007 column I wrote on the park.