May 16, 2014 11:00:17 AM
After more than a year of batting around ideas about what to do with the city-owned seven-acre parcel of land on The Island, immediately across the river from the Riverwalk, the Columbus City Council moved quickly Thursday.
During a specially-called meeting, the council approved a proposal to apply for a Mississippi Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Land Water Conservation Grant.
Often, quick action by the council is viewed with suspicion.
But in this case, the council's move makes sense. The deadline for applying for the 50/50 matching grant for up to $200,0000 is Monday, so if the council wanted to avail itself of the available grant money, prompt action was needed.
The fear in these cases is that the council will secure the money before it really knows what to do with it. Certainly, this is a criticism that came to light last month when the council first presented the idea of purchasing a $5 million bond for infrastructure improvements. During a public hearing, citizens were adamant the city should first decide how that money would be spent before securing the loan. That's a reasonable demand, of course, and the city is in the process of compiling a detailed list of projects the money will be used for.
In this case, however, it is clear that the city has a good plan in place for the money it seeks to secure for The Island development.
It is called River Island Park. The city's share of the cost, provided it chooses to decline the opportunity to use in-kind services to meet its 50-percent obligation, will be $62,000. The main features of the project will be constructing a concrete handicap ramp and a stairway that will give visitors access to the yet-to-be-developed area from the vicinity of the recently-renovated Old Highway 82 Bridge and a man-made beach that will cover roughly 380 feet along the Tennessee-Tombigbee River. A boardwalk may span the entire length of the beach.
We applaud the plan for several reasons.
First, the plans are modest. This is not some costly, pie-in-the-sky experiment that could backfire. Even if nothing is ever added in the area, the public beach alone will be something of value to residents.
Second, the planned park provides a different form of recreation. This is not merely an extension of the Riverwalk or a fill-in-the-gap between the Riverwalk and The Columbus Soccer Complex. After all, you can only have so many sidewalks, benches and pavilions before you reach a level of redundancy that is simply a waste of resources. In contrast, providing a well-developed beach area along the Tombigbee takes advantage of a great natural asset while complementing the other recreational amenities in the area.
Finally, the project achieves what has been stated as its goal from the start: It serves to encourage private development on the five-plus acres that is unaffected by the project.
We have stated from the start of the discussions about what to with The Island that private participation is vital.
The River Island Park remains true to that ideal.
In this instance, the city council moved quickly and also moved wisely.
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