A deal is in the making to preserve Augusta’s use of Pendleton King Park, City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson assured Friday. But, one of the park’s three trustees denied knowledge of the negotiations.
“Our legal staff and our parks and recreation director have met with a representative of the trustees,” Jackson said at a news conference. “We feel like we can come back with a proposal that can be presented to the mayor and commission, for them to make a decision.”
Jackson said a proposal may be ready Tuesday, or by Nov. 28, but the park trustee who gave a local housing developer a contract to buy the property for $1.2 million said he’s not been contacted.
“The only communication I’ve had with the city was three months ago with the mayor saying ‘I’ve got your letter,’” trustee Clarence Barinowski said.
News that Barinowski was trying to sell the 64-acre park caused widespread concern among its large community of users, with many pointing blame at city leaders for not accepting his earlier offer to buy it for $1.2 million or increase the rent from $1 per year to $85,000.
Jackson said Friday the city had not dragged its feet.
“I don’t think that’s a fair characterization,” she said. “Our recreation and parks director, Mr. Parker, led the discussion with input from the commission at various critical points during the discussion.”
She said any agreement to lease or purchase the park must take into consideration Augusta’s annual expense of about $130,000 in park maintenance and its contribution of sales tax funds for capital improvements.
The reason Barinowski had not communicated with the city was that the Thursday meeting was with corporate trustee, Queensborough Bank and Trust Trust Officer Troy Breitmann. Breitmann confirmed the meeting Friday.
Breitmann said he’d just met with trustee Mary Speir and would subsequently be meeting with Barinowski. He expects the trustees to be in agreement with the final disposition of the park, Breitmann said.
“Things take time to work out the details,” he said.
Commissioner Dennis Williams said Thursday a “win, win” proposition was imminent to preserve the park’s use by the public, and reiterated it Friday.
“I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that the people in our community would have Pendleton King Park to visit whenever they like,” he said.
Henry B. King created a trust in 1923 establishing housing for veterans at another location and a public park for the city of Augusta in memory of his son, John Pendleton King.
The veterans’ portion of King’s legacy needs funding that the trust hopes to gain from the park, Breitmann said.
The Pendleton King Park Foundation, a separate entity, was created by the Augusta City Council in 1966 to oversee development and maintenance of the park and has looked after its flora and fauna for decades.
The park is now home to numerous gardens, trails, a disc golf course, a playground and until earlier this year, Augusta’s only dog park.
The foundation, which is taking legal action to protect its interest, had garnered 3,992 signatures in support of saving the park in two days by Friday. The foundation is holding a question-and-answer session at noon Saturday at the park.
Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.