Steve Beaman says a new 5-year improvement plan for the city's Parks & Recreation Department is done and filed — and already serving, perhaps, its greatest purpose.
After holding a public forum on Dec. 15, 2019, to share information about the new plan — during which Beaman, the park superintendent, outlined several priorities in terms of improvements to be made over the next few years — he emailed it to the state Department of Natural Resources a week ago.
Initially, state officials said there were 25 other development plans up for consideration before the local one, but with a possible grant opportunity floating out there — and the deadline looming — for the restoration of the bandshell at Gregg Park the parks department's top priority, it was fast-tracked to the top of DNR's list.
“And I just got the letter today (and) it's been approved,” Beaman said. “Our plan is officially in place.”
Also this week, Beaman spoke with Bob Bronson, chief of DNR's grant section, who suggested the city specifically apply for a U.S. National Park Service Land and Water Conservation Grant for the bandshell restoration.
That same grant source funded $200,000 in improvements — new trails, storm water drainage infrastructure and new trees — at the county's Fox Ridge Nature Park located on North Hillcrest Road in Vincennes.
That was back in 2015, just a year after the county parks department received a grant from the Indiana DNR's Bicentennial Nature Trust Fund to purchase the former golf course in the first place.
Beaman said that Land and Water Conservation Grant has, in the years since, become somewhat inactive but has been given “a renewed life.”
“They're looking for projects to fund, so this is a popular time to apply for this grant,” he said.
Over the past two years, DNR has been able to fund the majority of the projects that applied for money from that federal source; as it grows in popularity, that may change, become more competitive, Beaman pointed out.
But it is a possibility, he said.
“If we were going to just rehab (the bandshell) just for its historical significance, then I don't think we would meet any of the criteria (for the Land and Water Conservation Grant),” Beamon said. “But since we want to use it for several recreational opportunities — everything from concerts to festivals and food trucks — we'll be using that bandshell for a lot more.
“But we have to rehab it to use it, so it all ties in,” he said. “And (Bronson) didn't feel like there would be an issue with us applying for this grant. That's good news.”
The bandshell was built through a cooperative agreement between the city and the federal Works Progress Administration in 1938, along with the nearby shelter house that the parks department has also recently benefited from a more than $100,000 renovation thanks to a DNR historic preservation grant.
Beaman said with the 5-year plan now in place, a representative with Southern Indiana Development Commission in Loogootee — a popular, regional grant administrator — will be coming to Vincennes next week to begin hashing out an application. Beaman also hopes to set up another time to speak about the opportunity with Bronson sometime in the next three weeks.
“I'm hoping to go over this, piece by piece, and do everything we can to improve our chances,” he said. “But we're definitely getting the ball rolling here.”
Beaman said the entire application process is likely to take upwards of three months to complete; he expects to see the grant submitted to DNR in early June.
The city would likely go for the full amount — as that's looked more favorably upon by DNR — of $250,000. It's a matching grant, so the city would have to put up $125,000.
Since Gregg Park is on both the state and national register of historic places, there would be historic covenants to adhere to, and it would likely need the addition of a ramp to meet with current Americans with Disabilities Act standards.
But a restoration is finally in the city's sights, Beaman said.
“This is going to be a lengthy process, but I'm confident we have a good chance to get this grant,” he said. “Hopefully, by the end of this year, we'll be awarded it, move forward and get that bandshell restored.
“I think the sky is the limit in terms of getting it done, getting more people into the parks and using it, not just for music, but even for things like weddings, just a lot of different things.”
Among the other priorities laid out in the 5-year improvement plan were the construction of a small storage shed next to the pickleball courts in Gregg Park as well as additional playground equipment at all four neighborhood parks.
Beaman also hopes to move forward with the construction of a new skate park at Lester Square Park, a project that has been on the minds of city officials for three years — ever since a group of local skaters, led by Thomas Tucker, owner of Homebase Supply, stepped forward and asked for one and offered to help.
Also included in the improvement plan is about $10,000 in security improvements, things like better signage and security cameras at Gregg Park, as one of the issues many who took an online survey was feeling unsafe there at night given the number of high school-age kids who hang out there in the warmer months.
Looking ahead to 2022, the parks department hopes to add outdoor basketball courts at both Lester Square Park and Gregg Park. A new and improved entrance to Gregg Park — as well as new sidewalks and new light poles — is also slated for 2025.
STATE 5-YEAR PLAN AVAILABLE
The latest in a long line of five-year plans to help determine the future public outdoor recreation needs of all Indiana residents and plan for that future is available from the Department of Natural Resources.
DNR is required to create a comprehensive state-level outdoor recreation plan every five years. This planning process keeps Indiana eligible to obtain funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund that DNR then re-grants to park boards in counties, townships, cities and towns.
The new 140-page Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan, which covers 2016-2020 and includes the 2021-2025 Indiana Trails Plan, may be downloaded at dnr.in.gov/outdoor/4201.htm.
The site also includes information on how the study is done.
For information, contact DNR Outdoor Recreation’s Greg Beilfuss at 317-232-4071 or email@example.com.