Benton looks to acquire more land for park complex

By Wayne Bryan Published August 10, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: William Harvey

John Eckart, left, director of the Benton Parks and Recreation Department, looks at plans for the proposed Riverside Park, along with Benton Mayor David Mattingly. The park will convert property formerly utilized as the Saline County airport and include a community center, an aquatic center, the Boys & Girls Club of Saline County and a senior center.

Mayor David Mattingly was again standing between the two paved lanes that served as the runways for the old Saline County airport and talking about his vision of what is going to be there late in 2016.

“We are standing near what will be the front of the River Center that will be the community center the citizens of Benton have wanted for a long time,” he said, looking toward Interstate 30, south of downtown Benton. “It will be close to parking. We want the maximum parking and a minimum walk, and there will be close to 1,000 spaces less than 50 yards away.”

The mayor and Benton Parks and Recreation Department Director John Eckart met between the old runways to look at the latest drawings of the proposed Riverside Park that will run between the Saline County Fairgrounds and the Holland Chapel Baptist Church below exit 166 on I-30. The park will include the community center and other facilities, as well as softball fields and a new location for the city’s dog park.

Land purchased from the Benton Advertising and Promotion Commission provided what will be the gateway to the new park. Mattingly said land will also be purchased from the county to add another piece to the puzzle that he and Eckart are putting together for the park.

We are in the final stages of an agreement with the county for some land, and we should have some answers by mid-August,” Mattingly said. “We have an offer in place for 5 acres of county land owned and controlled by the [county] fair. The property is scheduled to be sold at auction in the [Saline County] courthouse on Aug. 22.”

While it is a public auction, Mattingly said, he believes the requirements of the sale agreement will preclude anyone else from making a bid.

“The land can only be used for parking,” he said. “Our agreement is that we will lease it back to the fair’s board for parking during the fair.”

Other parcels of land are needed to complete the park.

“There are a few stumbling blocks that we hope to work out in six to 10 weeks,” Mattingly said. “It is an ongoing process, and we should start building the streets through the park in October. The streets need to come first so we can place the buildings just right.”

Eckart said the plan is to start construction on the four major facilities in the park by April.

Along with the community center, there will be a public pool and water-sports center called The Natatorium. Mattingly said plans for the new swim facility call for a therapy pool, as well. There will also be a new building to be used as a senior center.

Another planned structure will be a 51,000-square-foot building that will be home to the Boys & Girls Club of Saline County.

“It will allow the club to take around 800 children into its afternoon and summer programs,” Eckart said, “about double the number they can handle in their existing facility.”

In an earlier interview, Mattingly said the senior center and the Boys & Girls Club would be built and owned by the city but would be leased to the club and the senior-services agency.

The latest design of the park calls for the Benton Dog Park that opened last October to be moved to land along Sunset Lake, Eckart said.

The half-cent tax for the park and the facilities, along with what Mattingly called “quality-of-life issues,” was approved by the city’s voters last November. Since that time, city officials have worked with architects as efforts to acquire additional land have been underway.

While buying the land the city wants for the park has taken longer than planned, both the mayor and the parks director said they still believe the new park will be open by October 2016.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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