"I think maintenance is huge because it's the number one complaint that residents have about the current parks," said Stephanie Brinkerhoff-Riley, D-3rd Ward. Brinkerhoff-Riley noted several parks near her home are in poor condition. She said she fears Roberts Park would fall into disrepair and wants to learn more about the cost and plans for its upkeep.
The multi-use park is expected to feature a dog park, skate park, water fountain and splash pad, modern playgrounds and improved basketball and volleyball courts. Additionally, Mayor Lloyd Winnecke has said the estimated $6 million to 8 million project will have a large green space complete with walking trails.
Council Finance Chair John Friend, D-5th Ward, raised concerns about the city's revenue. He said money from Tropicana Evansville is expected to fall short of the city's projections by a couple million dollars. Friend noted the Parks and Recreation Department is already struggling to make ends meet. He said pricey maintenance costs for Roberts Park could worsen the situation.
Steve Schaefer, Mayor Lloyd Winnecke's chief of staff, said it's too early to speculate about annual maintenance costs. "We're optimistic and we hope that you will be as well," Schaefer told the council.
Dr. H. Dan Adams, D-At-Large, suggested the lot where Roberts Stadium used to stand be converted into a simple field of wild flowers until the city gets its funds together. "I'm not in favor of this at this particular time and I'm sorry," Adams told Schaefer and representatives from the parks department. "I'm not trying to hurt your feelings, but I've gotta be honest with you."
The Winnecke administration needs to convince council to authorize the use of $1.5 million in the 2014 budget to start work on the park. Schaefer says those funds would be used to build the park's infrastructure. One of the key components of the project is connecting Roberts Park to Wesselman Nature Preserve and the Evansville State Hospital.
Schaefer said several organizations have expressed interest in a public-private partnership to help offset the cost of maintenance. However, he told council those organizations won't come forward until connecting infrastructure is built. Some council members voiced their reluctant to commit $1.5 million without a figure for annual maintenance costs, others showed little interest in breaking ground on the park next year.
A conceptual plan for Roberts Park was released in July for public input. Schaefer said a final design reflecting that input will likely be released sometime in November. Council will meet October 28 to vote on the 2014 city budget.