CHRISTIANSBURG—Plans for a regional recreation park on the outskirts of Christiansburg has been moving at a snail’s pace.
Town council agreed they must move forward or else sell the nearly 70-acre parcel at Tuesday night’s regular scheduled meeting.
“We’ve been spinning our wheels for three years, and I don’t know if we’re even closer today than we were then,” Councilman Cord Hall said.
His colleague Henry Showalter pointed out a lot of money and time has been invested in this already and the governmental body must start making some serious and tough decisions about the project.
The group agreed in consensus for a plan that would break the project and its enormous price tag into phases.
The land that is located to the rear of Home Depot and Wal-Mart was purchased nearly three years ago. Since then, town leaders have debated how to pay for the newly named, North Christiansburg Regional Park.
The overall project has a $32 million price tag, but that’s where council has been fighting with tough choices that could mean a tax increase for town residents. Most of council admitted it’s “sticker shock.”
Treasurer Valerie Tweedie told council that $32 million would mean a major bond package with a large amount of debt service the town would have to absorb. She said current revenue would not be able to cover that amount, meaning the town residents could face a major property tax increase.
“Current revenue streams will not be able to support this project. We already have $20 million in debt service that we’re paying on,” she said.
Councilman Steve Huppert called this scary, especially for the town’s senior citizens.
“We have to walk carefully financially,” he said.
Others were scratching their heads and said they were having a hard time on how to pay for it, and if the town cannot pay for it, then a “for sale” sign needs to be placed on the property and the town needs to move forward.
Project engineer John Neel presented two options Tuesday night during a work session with the town’s recreation commission.
But by doing this, there could be some negative aspects.
“By breaking it completely down into multi-phases, it could cost more money than the original plan,” Neel said.
The new plan does include ways the town could find some financing for the project.
“We can possibly pull out the softball field from the overall complex and create two new retail spaces that could help fund the park,” Neel said.
A dog park would be moved to the original location of the softball field, and the new parcels would open retail areas along Peppers Ferry Road.
In total, this would then create a total of four outparcels the town could sell for several millions of dollars for both retail and other business areas. Two spaces have been drawn into the project adjacent to the park’s connector road.
But overall costs continue to mount, especially as the town plays the waiting game.
As the town drags out the plan, Neel also pointed out construction costs continue to rise, which causes an increase in the overall cost.
Alternative A, which most of the room agreed would be the way to go, includes open space work with overall grading of the entire park. A parking space would be created and the overall price tag of $6 million. Additional parcels of three multi-purpose fields could be added in for another $10 million with the first phase costing close to $16 million.
Tweedie said that amount might not need a major tax increase compared to the entire project.
The timetable depends on the decision by the town on how to proceed. Council asked staff to bring back some financial breakdowns in the next 45 days so they can make a decision.
The timetable, according to Neel, would then be: a 12-month final design phase, a 60-day bidding process and then up to 24 months for construction, meaning residents would see a new park no earlier than 2020.
The town is still seeking state transportation monies that would fund a connector road through the park from Peppers Ferry Road to Cambria Street.
In other matters during council’s regularly scheduled meeting, the group set a public hearing for February to deal with a future location in the Falling Branch Industrial Park for an animal testing company. The parcel, 145 Technology Drive, is located adjacent to Polymer Solutions.