Feb 152013


By Wesley Brown

Friday, February 15, 2013

Greenville Recreation and Parks Director Gary Fenton went on record this week saying that he does not want anybody to “freak out” about the idea of public-private development on the Town Common.

Instead, in his first remarks since city management unveiled a 20-year vision for the downtown park that included mixed-use housing and retail, he urged “everyone to hold judgment until true proposals are on the table.”

During the Greenville Recreation and Parks Commission monthly meeting, Fenton said he is neither “instantly against or instantly for” building around the edges of the 12 acres of green space overlooking the Tar River.

Fenton said before he would ever support any agreement, it would have to be a “win-win” for the park, its users and the community.

“I am a lifelong advocate of the value of parks and always will be until I die,” Fenton said. “If I ultimately thought such a concept was simply intended to help businesses without providing significant resources and benefits to the park, I would fight it to the death.”

A 43-year veteran of Recreation and Parks administration, Fenton said that while there are exceptions, he knows of numerous examples across the nation of public-private partnerships benefiting a city and its parks system.

But, the director said in order for any agreement to be successful, it has to be “made to benefit.”

“When those kinds of partnerships take place, they seldom happen without a major benefit to the park and its users,” Fenton said. “That’s why I reserve judgment.”

Fenton said he believes the Town Common has not begun to reach its full potential and that through the recent discussions about its future, he is pleased there are people who recognize how “active and vibrant” the riverside park is and that it not only affects the quality of life in Greenville, but the health of its people and its economy.

Fenton’s statement comes almost three weeks after City Manager Barbara Lipscomb presented to the City Council at its annual planning session a 20-year vision she had for Greenville that would transform the Town Common into an “iconic place” for the community.

Although she said the idea was “completely fictional,” staff later put an abstract drawing to the concept that depicted a Town Common with mixed-use housing, gardens, a mobile amphitheater, museum, gift shop and children’s discovery zone where national jewelry shows, art exhibits and music festivals could be hosted annually.

“The city and (East Carolina University) finally got together and formed a partnership to get new redevelopment, including a performing arts hall, hotel commons and mixed-use housing for ECU’s Lifelong Learning Program so that vibrant elders could live in mid-rise apartments and condos downtown along First Street, adjacent to the Town Commons, and along Reade Circle, adjacent to the university,” Lipscomb said to the council.

“And what an asset the river has become,” she said. “A hundred thousand tourists come in throughout the year for all types of paddle sports … like white water rafting.

“Everybody said the river was too flat to have rapids, but we figured it out. Yep, it sure is a wonderful thing to see.”

Considering the use of a public park for what might be thought of as private purposes will always result in a lot of emotional discussion, Fenton said, especially when people think the motive is simply to pave over green space so a private company will benefit.

In the past two weeks, more than a dozen people have written a letter to the editor or commented through The Daily Reflector’s “Bless Your Heart” forum against Town Common Development.

This week, At-large Councilman Dennis Mitchell used part of his public comment time during council meetings to reiterate there is no plan to fund the concept presented by staff — much of which was taken from the $13 million master plan approved for the Town Common in 2010 — nor has the council given any serious thought to it.

“Let me be clear, there is no plan to allow private development on the Town Common,” Mitchell said, emphasizing each word.

“Again,” he said. “There is no plan to allow private development on the Town Common.”

Contact Wesley Brown at 252-329-9579 or wbrown@reflector.com. Follow him on Twitter @CityWatchdog.

via The Daily Reflector.


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