FAYETTEVILLE -- The city's Parks Department hopes to use federal pandemic relief money to at least partially pay for three projects that have long sat on its to-do list.
The federal government awarded the city $17.9 million in American Rescue Plan money to help recover from the impact of covid-19. City administrators asked staff to work with various resident advisory panels to recommend uses for the money to the City Council. The council is expected to consider a plan for the money by the end of this year or early next year.
The city's Parks and Recreation Advisory Board on Monday saw a presentation from Park Planning Superintendent Ted Jack about potential uses of the money. The projects were sewer lines and restrooms at Underwood Park, amenities at Walker Park and renovating the softball fields at Lake Fayetteville.
The projects should fall within the preliminary guidance the federal government has given for use of the money, Jack said. The guidance says the money can be used to address community health disparities, support tourism or small businesses, damage or increased maintenance needs that resulted from increased use of parks during the pandemic, water and sewer infrastructure and environmental issues.
All three projects, if fully built, could have a price tag of $1.3 million to $1.5 million, Jack said. However, there is no expectation the three projects would all be paid for, and there is a possibility that no part of any of them would be paid for. The idea is to present the city administration a menu of options that could go to the City Council, he said.
Underwood Park opened in May, but has no man-made features. The city acquired the 58-acre park late last year after Craig and Laura Underwood donated land at the former Razorback Golf Course on Deane Solomon Road.
As a separate project, the city plans to connect Clabber Creek trail near Sam's Club to Arkansas 112 near the drive-in theater. The planned connection lies about a mile northeast of Underwood Park. The project is scheduled for 2023 using money from the city's capital fund for trails. The Arkansas Department of Transportation has to finish a project to widen and put a trail beside Arkansas 112 before the city can tie into it, Trails Coordinator Matt Mihalevich said.
Park officials anticipate residents will use the trail much more once the connection is finished. There are no city-provided public restrooms in the area, so installing sewer lines and a restroom at Underwood Park would serve future park users as well as trail users, Jack said.
Craig Underwood, owner of Underwood's Fine Jewelers on Dickson Street, said he was glad to hear the city plans to get started soon on some aspect of the park. The west side of town is in dire need of more park amenities, and putting a restroom near the trail makes sense, he said.
"The city being such a large organization, it moves at a slower pace, obviously, than an independent, small business. It's contrary to what I'm used to dealing with," Underwood said. "I know it's just a process, but I'm anxious to see it moving forward, and I'd like to see it done sooner rather than later."
Another potential use of the federal money would be to build out some of the amenities proposed in a yearslong plan for Walker Park. In 2017, park officials made conceptual drawings for the park. The plan includes an expansion of the skateboard park feeding off the Razorback Greenway to the west, a small deck or stage, a lawn for spectators or picnics and more playground amenities to the east.
Jack also envisions the installation of a system to use recycled water from the splash pad for irrigation at the park and environmentally friendly drainage features at the parking lot on Block Avenue.
Walker Park serves many lower-income residents on the south part of town, so adding more amenities could meet the federal government's criteria for addressing community health disparities, Jack said. Expanding the skateboard park could also serve as a tourism draw, he said.
Roy Rodezno with the Northwest Arkansas Skateboarding Foundation said connecting the skateboard park to the greenway will increase the park's value to the community. The green space also would make the facility more into a "skate garden," drawing visitors, he said. Organizations such as Rodezno's would have more modern skate park amenities and obstacles to use for events, bringing tourism dollars to the city, he said.
"That's great they see that value point of the skate park," Rodezno said. "There are skaters from all over visiting at any time and that could potentially increase with the addition and the ability to bike to it via the trail. That would also be a good tourism value point to Northwest Arkansas as a whole, if we had multiple skate parks all connected by the trail."
The Parks Department has heard several complaints from residents about the three softball fields at Lake Fayetteville. The fields flood frequently and feel inadequate compared to the renovated softball fields at Gary Hampton Park, Jack said. The city's youth softball program used the fields until parents complained about the subpar conditions. Youth participants now play at Gary Hampton. The adult softball league still plays at Lake Fayetteville.
Federal money could help replace the grass and dirt fields with artificial turf and improve the way rainwater flows at the site, or potentially update the playground equipment and concession building, Jack said.
A renovated facility could help drive tourism dollars with tournaments and generally improve the social, physical and mental well-being of residents, he said.
"All the infrastructure -- I think it was all built in the early 1980s or late 1970s," Jack said. "The stuff's been there a long time, so it's showing its age."
Rescue Plan money
The American Rescue Plan Act is a $1.9 trillion emergency legislative package to provide resources needed to address the ongoing covid-19 public health crisis and spur economic recovery.
The act has some areas that it emphasizes for funding:
• Water and sewer infrastructure
• Economically disadvantaged areas
• Environmental, social and economic purposes
Source: Fayetteville Parks and Recreation