Council greenlights plans for festival park, library, gives approval to permits for shooting range and training school

Published 12:06 am Saturday, August 6, 2022

Over the next 18 to 24 months, city officials expect a new festival event park and library to transform downtown. 

And though a library to replace the out-of-date Morgan Memorial Library across from City Hall has long been in the works, the festival event park to go in next to it is happening, at least in some part, thanks to a tornado that tore through the central part of the city two years ago.

With City Council’s approval of a conditional use permit to establish a park/open space on the property at 219 W. Washington St. and 101 S. Saratoga St. along with the rezoning of property on Lee Street from residential medium density to central business district zoning — both coming on 7-0 votes at its Aug. 3 meeting — plans can proceed on the two projects. 

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Gerry Jones, director of capital projects, said he expects the new park, with its feature entrance at the corner of South Saratoga and West Washington streets, to be ready by next June in time for the city’s TGIF summer concert series. 

The park will be made up of four separate properties on two acres, and will be a community park for the city’s downtown historic district. City officials have said the park could draw more than 100,000 annual visitors downtown to support retail, restaurants and other services. 

The city set aside $150,000 from the previous fiscal year for the park through its capital improvements program and plan, while another $550,000 is expected to be spent on the project in the next two years. However, council would have to approve that money when it approves subsequent capital projects. 

The new $23.3 million library, which Jones has been talking about for the past 23 years, will be two stories and 37,800 square feet and located on three downtown properties just down West Washington street from the current library. It will be about two-and-a-half times larger than the current 14,500-square-foot library. 

The design of the new library will have an urban presence along West Washington Street, and the rear of the library, facing Jackson Street, will have a neighborhood presence with outdoor activity spaces to support library services. 

Parking for the library will be on Lee Street, which will be redesigned and converted to a one-way street to make vehicle access easier for public and staff functions. There also will be parking at the rear of the building.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Councilman Donald Goldberg. “I’m excited about it. It’s going to be great for downtown.”

Jones has said previously that the festival event park would create outdoor space that would complement library activity while providing added amenities for the public. 

Shooting range, school approved

By a pair of 6-1 votes following a public hearing, council voted to approve conditional use permits for an outdoor shooting range and a training school on property along Hosier Road. Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett was the lone no vote for both permit requests. 

The owner of the shooting range and the civic league representing the nearby Skeetertown area of the city met several times to resolve issues related to the 284-acre property after the Planning Commission had delayed action on the permits for 30 days. 

The property will have several shooting ranges — a 200 and 800-yard rifle range, and a 50-yard pistol range on four acres of the property at 1255 Hosier Road. They’re designed to accommodate 12 members at a time. It also will have retail sales of firearms and ammunition to serve as an accessory use to the shooting ranges. The ranges are already on the property and would require no new construction. 

A training school for tactical and non-tactical training for federal, state, local and municipal personnel, and the general public, also will be on 10 acres of the gated property at 1444 Hosier Road. Guests will have to pay dues and be vetted to become members. 

During the public hearing, state delegates running against each other, Republican Emily Brewer and Democrat Clinton Jenkins spoke on the permits, Brewer in support of them, saying the shooting range and school would provide a unique opportunity and added economic benefit to the city, and Jenkins calling for more transparency to ensure residents know what is going on.