AP NEWS

Central perks: City putting plans in place to upgrade downtown park

March 2, 2019

STERLING – As the city gets ready to approve a new budget, it’s a time for City Hall to focus on spending priorities for the next fiscal year that begins May 1.

The city has discussed the renovation of Grandon Civic Center and Central Memorial Park for many years, but with a long list of more pressing capital projects, it’s been difficult to find the money to make the park more events-friendly.

The park is best known as home to the Sterling Municipal Band, but Sterling Main Street and others have brought in events such as Movies in the Park, Music Fest, Fiesta Days, and farmers markets.

Desired upgrades include basic infrastructure – getting water, sewer and new electrical into the park for residents and vendors.

“The electrical is really old – the original gas lamps are still there,” City Manager Scott Shumard said. “The lack of parking and power have been big issues that make it difficult to have weddings, music and other special events there.”

Utility upgrades would allow for new restrooms, food quarters, lighting and a water fountain. Several general maintenance projects also need to be done, including sidewalks, board and bench replacements and painting. The list also includes the replacement of dying trees, other landscaping, and new signage.

In 2016, the city put a survey on its website to gather input from residents on what they’d like to see done to improve the park. Hoping also to generate interest and donations, a firm was hired to produce drawings that would allow residents to better visualize some of the improvements discussed.

Survey respondents said that bathrooms were the amenity they most would like to see at the park; portable toilets are now used for events.

While interest was generated, lack of funds put the park on the back burner. The total price tag is estimated at $1.2 million, dictating the project will be done in phases. The first phase, which would cost about $500,000, seems finally to be within the city’s reach.

“Unless donations miraculously come down from the sky, we’ll have to do the work in pieces,” Shumard said.

The city is optimistic that substantial progress can be made this budget year.

“We’re trying to get the engineering done over the summer and we’d like to start the restrooms and concessions work this fall,” he said.

Those improvements would be made in the park’s southeast corner.

A majority of the funding would come from the downtown tax increment financing district that is nearing the end of its life. The money in that TIF is earmarked for the park upgrades and the farmers market project.

A pleasant surprise from another revenue source also could help move the park project along. Despite the recent loss of big retailers such as J.C. Penney and Bergner’s, the city amended last year’s budget to reflect a 3 percent increase in its sales tax revenues.

“We were surprised that we didn’t see a loss of revenue from the loss of the big-box stores,” Shumard said. “That’s the biggest increase we’ve seen since before the recession.”

A new law allowing the collection of some online taxes also is starting to generate some new money for cities. The city is still holding out hope that some donations will roll in.

Grandon Civic Center, a gift from D.W. Grandon, was dedicated July 20, 1938. The city would like to see its use expanded in part to honor the wishes of the donor.

“The Grandon family envisioned that it be used for many different things, not just the band concerts,” Mayor Skip Lee said.

David Washington Grandon, better known as D.W., was the longtime editor and publisher of the Sterling Daily Gazette.