By Joel Hall
Originally, the City of Riverdale planned to purchase land behind The Home Depot on Lamar Hutcheson Parkway to act as the starting point for the city's Town Center project.
Recently, plans to purchase the land went awry, and this week, the city took steps to build the new mixed-use complex on what is now Travon Wilson Park.
Since the 1970s, Riverdale has leased the park land to Clayton County for $1 a year. On Monday, Riverdale Mayor Evelyn Wynn-Dixon broke a tie among the four members of the city council, suspending a long-running leasing agreement between the city and county.
The purpose of the resolution is to put the park's management back into the hands of the city and prepare it for construction of the Town Center development, which is expected to break ground in September and open in Christmas of 2009.
In turn, the city has purchased land on Wilson Road in Riverdale, with the intention of building a replacement park.
City Manager Iris Jessie said a January Supreme Court ruling prohibiting school system tax revenues from contributing to Tax Allocation District (TAD) projects, as well as an inability to secure ownership of the land behind The Home Depot, led the city to build on Travon Wilson Park.
"There were several developments that led us away from that site," said Jessie. "One major disadvantage was that we didn't own the land. We weren't in the driver's seat as far as the development component. When our major source of funding became questionable, we needed to find something that had far fewer moving pieces."
"Anytime you are in control, you are in a better situation than when you are not," said public works and community development director, Doug Manning.
Manning said by moving the project to Wilson park, the potential building area will be reduced from 32.4 acres to 27.2 acres. However, doing so will save about $3.6 million in land acquisition costs alone, bringing the projected price tag of the project to $17 million.
However, moving the project to the park will also mean building on top of what now is a memorial to Travon Wilson, a four-year-old, who in June 2004, was slain in the park in a hail of gunfire between rival gangs. Manning said the city is currently in contact with the Wilson family to negotiate a fitting memorial within the new Town Center.
"The tragedy that befell Travon Wilson happened geographically within the park," said Manning. "Some homage will respectfully be paid ... whatever it is it will be tastefully done."
Councilman Rick Scoggins, who voted against the Town Center project moving to the park, expressed concern about a lack of amenities and a disruption of services after the park is shut down.
"We have no place for our children," said Scoggins. "The skate park was the first thing that got away from us. Now, they are talking about taking away the park. Pretty soon, we are going to have nothing left."
Scoggins believes the city should redevelop the existing city hall property before building a new city hall in the Town Center.
Mayor Wynn-Dixon believes the Town Center is necessary, and that it will "create a halo effect" among businesses in the city.
"All of the businesses will benefit from this," said Wynn-Dixon. She said the city is working closely with the Parks and Recreation Department to make sure the sports programs currently taking place at the park will not be interrupted.
"We are going to be inconvenienced for awhile, but the ultimate project will be worth it," said Councilman Kenny Ruffin. "We have to become self-sufficient. We have to stop going to Fayetteville to spend our money."
Riverdale City Hall will host town hall meetings tonight and Thursday night at 7 p.m., to discuss the changes with residents. City Hall is located at 6690 Church Street in Riverdale.