City holds on big park project


Across the state, local governments are trimming funding previously set aside for parks and leisure activities to meet decreasing budgets.

In Iowa City, construction for the Sand Lake Park — on Sand Road Southeast, at the south end of Gilbert Street — will be put on hold to fit budget constraints in the wake of flood damage and emergency projects.

“I don’t think we can afford this,” Councilor Connie Champion said. “I think we should forget this project until we can make it a priority.”

The Iowa City City Council purchased the 190 acres of land last year for $1 million in hopes of turning it into the largest park in the city. Construction would likely carry a price tag around $3.5 million, officials said.

“I’ve got to believe we provide healthy lifestyles for community members,” said Mike Moran, the city recreation head. “The parks department shouldn’t be easily dismissed. When people aren’t working, they’re in the parks.”

Free city services, such as parks and the Iowa City Recreation Center, have seen an increase in visitors since the beginning of the recession, he said.

Money for the park was removed from the newly approved fiscal 2010 budget to create funding for a fourth fire station — a secure move, councilors said.

Iowa City applied for a Vision Iowa Community Activities Tourism grant, which would have donated $2 million to the park project, but became ineligible when it was unable to meet the two-year construction completion requirement.

Last September, Gov. Chet Culver pulled funds from the Community Activities Tourism grant for flood mitigation. The grant dispenses $12 million each year for parks and recreation across the state.

Though Iowa Tourism Office officials haven’t seen a steep decline in park funding, communications manager Jessica O’Riley said, the state is not funding any new projects.

“After Gov. Culver used the Community Activities Tourism grant for flood relief, all projects were placed on hold,” she said. “Things got backed up, and we’re still waiting for the Legislature to reaffirm the money for funding.”

Until funding is available again, the park is relying on private fundraising. Moran estimated the department has raised $72,000 in private donations for the park.

“This isn’t what we’d like it to be, but there are other priorities we’re committed to doing,” Councilor Mike O’Donnell said. “We’ll have to see how it all plays out.”

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