As Effingham County commissioners prepare to approve a fiscal year 2012 budget, Springfield residents and city council members questioned them about the future of the Ulmer Park promenade project, which the city and county have been working on for almost a year and a half.
Jamey Stancell, president of the Springfield Merchants Association and a member of the park promenade committee, asked commissioners why the project had been taken off the list of special purpose local option sales tax work.
“It’s the only project we’ve seen where a city is willing to work with the county,” he said. “I think it would be really good for the community. It shows people that you care and we see where everybody is and we’re trying to move forward.
“We had a planning committee and now I hear it’s not even on the budget. I’d like to know are there any other projects that city governments are trying to help you guys.”
Discussed in the plans for an expanded and remodeled Ulmer Park are a pavilion or stage at the eastern end, at the corner of Crawford and Pine streets or a community center to take the place of the aging Treutlen Building. Stancell added that initial talks between the county and city put the split of the potential $1.2 million price tag at $200,000 from the city and $1 million from the county to $40,000 from the city and $800,000 from the county.
“I think when a city the size of Springfield is willing to put in (another) $220,000, I think that speaks volumes,” Stancell said.
In budget proposals, commissioners have considered spending $35,000 in SPLOST money for building demolition. They also have earmarked $750,000 for renovation of the Effingham County Recreation and Parks gymnasium in Springfield.
“We’re just putting it on the backburner,” Commissioner Reggie Loper, whose district includes Springfield, said of the Ulmer Park project. “We don’t know what’s going to happen in the next two to three months, the next six months. We might need the money to go somewhere. There’s more important projects in the county than the promenade in Springfield, as far as I’m concerned.”
Stancell said that the park promenade project was placed on the ballot for the upcoming round of SPLOST.
“How do we know the people of Springfield didn’t vote for SPLOST because they wanted the park?” Stancell said. “I think you owe the people of District 4 to ask us what we think. We don’t need a big brother; we need someone to represent us. I was afraid if I didn’t come to speak tonight it would be going to another project.”
Stancell estimated that the project, including a community center, would cost around $1.3 million, with the city and county pledging to spend about $1.25 million.
“I think the citizens, the people who serve on that community, deserve to move forward with this,” he said. “I want to start tomorrow. I wanted to start when we started talking about it.”
Stancell suggested building a proposed community center on the site of the current Treutlen Building. Remodeling and renovating that building, he said, would cost more than new construction.
“There’s no historical value, other than the name,” he said.
County Administrator David Crawley said the ECRP gym needs new air conditioning units. Replacing those likely will cost less than $50,000.
“We kind of took the direction that the park promenade was more of a long-range project. This was based on some of our discussions with our infrastructure committee,” he said. “We have allocated $750,000 to a renovation of our old gym. You can allocate those funds to any project you see fit. It says this amount of money goes to recreation. It doesn’t say specifically which projects we’re going to do. We’ve tried to be fairly consistent with the list of projects these funds can go for. The gym project is one that if you choose to wait we can wait.”
Effingham Chamber of Commerce Rick Lott also said he was impressed with what the plans for the Ulmer Park project entail and see them as a potential boost to the community.
“It was one of the most visionary projects I’ve seen come along in the county in the time I’ve been working with county issues,” he said. “I think it does an awful lot to spread some of the growth of the south end of the county to the north end. I think it has a lot of promise.”
Other commissioners voiced their support for the project.
“I see it as a positive,” said Commissioner Vera Jones.
Added Commissioner Bob Brantley, also a member of the park promenade committee: “I wholeheartedly support it. I think it will help downtown Springfield. Anything we can do to help our economy, I think we ought to do it.”
Stancell and others who back the Ulmer Park project are pointing to its potential impact on the Springfield economy and on the county’s economy as a whole.
“Springfield is the heart of the county,” said Gussie Nease, a Rincon resident. “There is so much that we can do. There is so much we need to do to save Springfield and save our county and save our economy. It’s so important to move forward with a project that shows people we are working together and we are not fighting each other, that there is a place for young families to bring their children to.”
Nease added that the Ulmer Park project could show those looking at Effingham as a place to live that has something else to offer.
“We need that again,” she said. “We need something to say ‘we are a real good place.’ We’ve got things to offer to people to move here. But we’re not seeing that; people aren’t buying, not like they were. We’re still a very good place to live. We need to prove that by moving forward with this promenade project.”