City & County

MLK Park panel talks funding, future

A sign placed in 2021 still promises a park at the corner of 15th and Pine streets in Arkadelphia. | Joel Phelps/The Arkadelphian

By JOEL PHELPS | The Arkadelphian

It isn’t a matter of if, but rather a matter of when the former site of Clark County Memorial Hospital will become a city park.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Park Committee met Monday at Town Hall to discuss the status of fundraising efforts and to determine the next course of action.

Arkadelphia MLK Park

The park, located at 15th and Pine streets, started as idea more than 12 years ago when city directors compromised with leaders in the black community who wanted to rename Pine Street in honor of King.

In 2017 the city secured funding from a real estate transaction and an ADEQ grant to raze the old hospital. The following year the hospital was demolished and a seven-member committee was formed to begin planning for a $2.25 million park.

By summer of 2021, with an agreed-on vision of the park, visionaries announced an optimistic fundraising campaign, with longtime Arkadelphia resident Fitz Hill at the helm. It was then that Ouachita Baptist University pledged a $50,000 gift for the park. The Arkansas Community Foundation would later pitch in $25,652. 

An artist’s rendering of the MLK Park layout as seen from above. | HALFF Associates

Funding hurdles

The City of Arkadelphia has $250,000 in available funding from a surplus of revenue projected from the Move Arkadelphia Forward sales tax. Those funds have accumulated over a three-year span. With $150,000 in like funding expected in 2023, the total finances for the MLK Park sit at $475,652.

There is still $1.77 million needed to build the park that city leaders have envisioned, the park Halff designed.

“What we put together was a dream. We’ve got a park that has a lot of different facets to it … maybe we need to rethink that.”

— Taylor Chaney, Ward 1 director

Park visionaries were led to believe that the US Bank building would be titled to the city, which could in turn sell the building. However, the building was instead sold to Malone Real Estate LLC for $350,000, further thwarting fundraising efforts for the MLK Park.

There is still a ray of hope for an Outdoor Recreation Grant of up to $250,000. The manager of that advisory committee has recently encouraged the city to reapply later this year for funding. This would mark the third time the city has applied for that particular grant.

Where to go from here?

While Monday’s meeting was unfruitful in terms of announcing any major updates on the park or its fundraising, the panel discussed potential steps to take to make progress.

Citizens are talking about the park, and the biggest question they seem to ask is when will work start on the park.

“At some point we’re going to get the park built. It’s just a matter of when.”

— Roland Gosey, assistant mayor

Committee chairman Roland Gosey asked City Manager Gary Brinkley for the monetary figure needed to begin working on the park. Brinkley replied that he didn’t have a specific number but said the first phase could likely be done for about $400,000.

Committee member Lee McGlone questioned whether it would be advantageous to use the funds collected so far to complete the first of three phases of park development. “People would like to see this done,” McGlone said, adding there are many who don’t know the status of the park. But, he said, neither citizens nor those close to the project have much information to give.

Martha Dixon, who also serves on the panel, also inquired if work on the park could be started with the available funds while further fundraising efforts were made. Brinkley said he wouldn’t want to start this park if funds aren’t there to finish it. Some, he said, have suggested getting a start by placing benches or landscaping at the park. “If we do that it’s the only thing that’ll ever be done,” Brinkley said, “and if we just do the one thing it won’t be sufficient.”

Committee member Kyle Jones said he had feared park’s realization might come to a standstill due to a lack of funding. He suggested an “independently wealthy” local resident endorse the park, then perhaps others would follow “to help us get across the finish line.” He agreed with Brinkley that it would be “detrimental” to the public’s perception of the park if only a portion of the work was done at first.

We’re still working

Gosey said he remains convinced that the community will not support full funding of MLK Park. Brinkley agreed, saying it would be a tall order to raise $2.25 million from citizens in Arkadelphia to erect a public park. Gosey added there may need to be a different approach to securing funds needed for the park.

Dixon suggested that Brinkley’s staff prepare a letter and packet so that the Clinton Foundation might donate. Brinkley was receptive to that idea. Dixon has direct connections with the Clintons, as she designed a number of Hilary Clinton’s dresses and gowns.

Brinkley said a “substantial” park could be built with 80% of the goal, or $2 million. It was the committee’s consensus to wait on starting any work at the park until there is a larger pool of available funds.

Taylor Chaney, a city board liaison, suggested the park be “scaled back” from the current vision. “What we put together was a dream,” Chaney said. “We’ve got a park that has a lot of different facets to it … maybe we need to rethink that, especially with the cost.”

McGlone, referring to all the ongoing projects such as the Arkadelphia Bypass and the widening of Pine Street, said MLK Park could be “another ingredient” to add to positive momentum for the community. “There’s a lot of good things happening for Arkadelphia right now,” McGlone said.

Gosey, admitting he didn’t have all the answers constituents ask of him about the park, said his message to the community is that “We’re still working” on the park. “At some point we’re going to get the park built,” he said. “It’s just a matter of when.”

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