Mayor, council members planning Townsend Park tour

Pine Bluff City Council members will be joining Mayor Debe Hollingsworth for a tour of Townsend Park on Friday morning to get a first-hand look at the facility before considering an appropriation of $450,000 from capital improvement tax reserves toward park renovations.

The appropriation — in the form of a resolution sponsored by Hollingsworth — will likely be on the agenda of the Monday, May 6, regular council session.

Earlier this week, the council’s three-member public works committee voted to recommend the proposal’s adoption. Also receiving an affirmative nod from the panel was a second Hollingsworth resolution calling for an appropriation of $392,116 from tax reserves for improvements to the Merrill Center. An earlier effort by the mayor to secure a combined $650,000 on the efforts was rejected by the council.

“I can’t think of a better thing for the city to spend its money on than its young people,” Hollingsworth said during the committee meeting, which occurred just three days after a Merrill Center tour by five council members and other city officials.

Alderman Glen Brown, who declined to participate in the Merrill Center walk-through, said Tuesday that he “may” take part in the Townsend Park survey, but he already knows the facility “inside-out.” Brown said he’s opposed to any proposed appropriations beyond $20,000 to $30,000 for the Merrill Center and $100,000 for Townsend Park.

“I care about our kids, but I think to throw money at simply repairing old buildings and parks is a waste,” he said, adding that he agrees with Alderman George Stepps that more focus should be placed on upkeep of existing parks and recreation facilities. “We’re trying to get money up to build a multipurpose center, and that’s what needs to be primary. I don’t mind spending a little on a temporary fix, but completely renovating Townsend Park and the Merrill Center is not the answer.”

Brown believes the city would be better served with a new park and community center, in addition to the multipurpose facility.

“We need a new park in central Pine Bluff, and a new center like Merrill nearby,” he said. “I realize Townsend Park is a historical site, but the city has invested money there before and it’s not long before it’s in bad shape again. And the Merrill Center is in in kinda an isolated area now.”

He discounted a notion that a revived Townsend Park, with upgraded baseball facilities, might generate tourism by hosting baseball and softball tournaments.

“Tournaments aren’t guaranteed,” he said. “Our convention center isn’t bringing in much. Saracen Landing and our slack water harbor ought to be bringing in more, but they’re not. I’ll tell you what would bring in tourism — a new multipurpose center. People will come in from all around for that.”

Alderman Bill Brumett, who visited the Merrill Center before and did not take part in the group visit, said he was initially wary of the Townsend Park renovation plan but is now fully supportive.

“Now that I understand they’re talking about just three baseball fields and a possible addition of a fourth, I’m OK with it,” he said.

Brumett said he shares Brown’s zest for a multipurpose center becoming a reality, but figures such a goal is at least several years away.

“But our kids need something now,” said Brumett, who intends to participate in the Townsend Park inspection.

Alderman Wayne Easterly, who also missed the Merrill Center tour, said he hopes to be present for the Townsend Park examination. Easterly said he’s content with the proposed appropriations for the Merrill Center and Townsend Park.