The Herald Bulletin

April 2, 2013

New Athletic Park could transform downtown

Rotary Club develops $3.7 million plan

By Stuart Hirsch
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — New York has Central Park. And Washington, D.C., The National Mall.

Indianapolis boasts that Eagle Creek Park is one of the largest municipal parks in the country. And Pendleton, of course, has Falls Park.

All are community gathering places that make a statement about quality of life and civic pride.

In downtown Anderson, Athletic Park could be an equally important source of fun and pride, Philip Lavelle Jr. and other members of Anderson Morning Rotary believe.

Anchored by the historic Athletic Park Pool near the east end of Eighth Street’s Eisenhower Bridge, Lavelle, current president of the Rotary group, wanted to tackle a large project.

“We asked ourselves if we could do something really transformational,” Lavelle said. “Many of us lamented the fact that Athletic Park is anything but an athletic park.”

Members of the club met with Mike Montgomery, a partner and principal architect at krM Architects here, and Kevin Montgomery, who developed a design based on ideas developed during those meetings.

The result of those discussions is a proposed plan that divides the park into four areas.

The north part would be a quiet area for picnics, disc golf, family gatherings and a dog park.

The east, or center, section would be an athletic zone for field sports such as soccer, track running, sand volleyball and basketball.

In the south area, near the pool, there would be a playground, splash-park and performance area.

To the west would be a well-lighted native woods area with pathways for education and enjoyment. Dividing the native woods and the athletic area would be a rain garden and boardwalk area.

After construction — the initial project estimate is $3.7 million — the entire facility would be turned over to the city’s parks department, Lavelle said.

Cost, of course, is a big factor and raising money for the project is the next hurdle the Rotary Club needs to address, Lavelle said, adding that he expects the project would have to be built in phases as construction money becomes available.

He said a steering committee has been formed to help begin developing fundraising plans.

“I’m absolutely elated by the interest of the Rotary Club in downtown revitalization,” Mayor Kevin Smith said Tuesday. “Athletic Park and Athletic Park Pool are essential to one another. These two ideas have come together very nicely.”

He was referring to John Anderson’s efforts to raise money to reopen the pool. Through a number of small fundraisers, including one last weekend at Cooper’s Sports Bowl, Anderson has raised more than $5,000 to rehabilitate the pool.

“Anderson needs something like this to draw people downtown,” said Anderson. “I really hope it’s successful.

“To me, this town needs something like this to bring people downtown,” Anderson said of the park project.

The pool was closed in 2004 during Smith’s first term while $340,000 was spent on repairs. It closed again, seemingly for good, after the 2007 season when Kris Ockomon was mayor.

After that, vandals broke into the pool, stole every bit of copper wiring, some plumbing fixtures, smashed windows and spray painted graffiti on exterior walls, Smith said.

Smith included money to reopen the pool in his proposed budget for this year, but to deal with the city’s ongoing financial crisis and avoid laying off police and firefighters, the City Council eliminated funding for the pool.

Smith said he still hopes to open the pool this season working in-house with existing city resources.

“The way I look at this, Anderson needs to be a fun place to live for families, well, for anyone,” Lavelle said. “I can see families picnicking, senior citizens using the trails, kids playing sports. This is not an economic development project, but a quality-of-life project. Creating it will make Anderson a great place to live and work.”

Find Stu Hirsch on Facebook and @StuHirsch on Twitter, or call 640-4861.