The People's Land
Belongs to the People
Opening Statement for Saving Red Bank Central Park
For all its charms, Red Bank’s miniscule public outdoor gathering space limits our potential community cohesiveness and spirit. A mere 36 total acres of developed parks for a city of 6.44 square miles means only 0.87% of the area of our city is in accessible public green space. Our few parks are too small, inconveniently located, or too restrictive to meet our unifying needs. We have no central public commons capable of comfortably supporting such community-building activities and offerings as town jubilees, public markets, outdoor concerts, festivals and celebrations, fireworks, food trucks with picnic pavilions, walking paths, gardens, personal recreation, relaxation and water features.
Right in front of us sits the last opportunity to create a game-changing public commons. The old Red Bank Middle School property at 3715 Dayton Boulevard is the right space with the right layout in the right location to provide the boost our community needs. This 12-acre green space is in the town center, within an easy walk or bike ride for thousands, amid what easily can be envisioned as a vibrant, revitalized retail district.
This property – becoming fondly known as Red Bank Central Park – has been in public ownership since long before Red Bank was founded. It is, and always should be, a public trust asset and a public treasure, for the benefit of the People.
Its fate, however, is intertwined with a complex land-swap dilemma involving the City, the National Park Service (NPS), and a 1970 federal grant. That $73,675.92 federal grant funded development and permanent protection of Morrison Springs Park. In 2011, however, Red Bank made a deal with the NPS to convert 14.63 acres of that park for the new middle school, in exchange for providing equivalent land (including a few acres of the old middle school property) and recreation opportunity elsewhere within 3 years. Red Bank failed to uphold its end of that legally binding deal, and now is out of compliance with the federal government.
The old middle school property is the best and probably only site capable of meeting Red Bank’s outdoor recreation obligation to the federal government. Yet some city leaders with a short-term view prefer to sell off the People’s land to private developers, to pad the city budget with a one-time cash windfall and modest annual tax revenues.
These leaders contend that Red Bank already has enough parks and green space, and instead needs more high-density housing and retail space. To the contrary, Red Bank already is overrun with high-density and rental housing, as well as with vacant, obsolete, or underutilized commercial properties. Within an easy 6-block walk of the Central Park are nearly two dozen depreciated commercial sites, ripe for investment and redevelopment.
A 1st-class, 12-acre Red Bank Central Park could be the community anchor that stimulates revitalization of the broader retail district. A diverse, multi-season park that attracts throngs of people to the town center could, in turn, sustain a customer base that justifies private redevelopment nearby. Red Bank Central Park could do for our town what Coolidge Park did for the North Shore of Chattanooga. With this long-term strategy – a 1st class full-size community park surrounded by a rejuvenated downtown business district – Red Bank can have it both ways!
We, the people of Red Bank, have this one last chance to create something special and unique in our town center, that raises the quality of life, the vibrancy of business, and the excitement of community in our city.
Save Red Bank Central Park!
Carolina coralbead, or snailseed