By Troy A. Breitmann
Pendleton King Park has a long and rich history with the city of Augusta. It is understandable that there are strong feelings surrounding the future of the park.
We sincerely regret any anxiety caused by the news of an impending sale of the park property. It has always been our intent to perpetuate this important community asset.
When the Henry B. King Trust came into existence nearly nine decades ago, the trust was required to have three trustees – two individual trustees and one institutional trustee that was to be an Augusta bank with trust services.
Over the years this role has been filled by several local banks. When Queensborough Bank was asked to accept this role nine months ago, as the only remaining Augusta bank which could meet this requirement, we accepted that role.
Mr. King’s will, and the trust it created, set two mandates for his trustees to accomplish.
The first was to provide housing support for veterans of World War I. This mandate was established by the creation of Camp Pendleton, a cottage development, which to this day houses veterans free of charge.
The second mandate was to provide a bird and wildlife sanctuary for the enjoyment of the veterans and the city of Augusta. This second mandate was established by the creation of what has become the present-day Pendleton King Park.
Upon its acceptance of the role of trustee, Queensborough reviewed the current state of both mandates. While there are no longer veterans of World War I, commitments had been made over the years to provide housing support to current veterans at Camp Pendleton. Additionally, when Queensborough accepted its role in early 2017, the trust was a party to a 25-year lease to the city of Augusta to operate Pendleton King Park for $1 per year, with a quickly expiring lease term of Dec. 31, 2017.
It was clear that the trust did not have the resources to adequately meet the commitments made to the veterans or provide for a secure future for the park beyond the length of a lease term. Working with the other trustees, Queensborough advocated for a plan that could provide a permanent solution to these economic and logistical issues.
Queensborough has never given consideration to any scenario that would result in Pendleton King Park ceasing to be a public park for the enjoyment of the citizens of Augusta.
The plan Queensborough supports allows a local developer, Winchester Homebuilders, to purchase the park from the trust for cash. In compliance with a binding, recorded restriction placed on the park property, Winchester Homebuilders would then, in turn, donate the entirety of the present Pendleton King Park property to the city of Augusta.
The city would receive the Pendleton King Park property with absolutely no development of any kind and a restriction that this property may only be used as a park, for all of time.
Winchester Homebuilders would benefit from the gift as a part of their overall tax planning and receive property of similar value suitable for new development. At no time during this transaction would the city lose any use of Pendleton King Park.
As a result of the sale of the Pendleton King Park property to Winchester Homebuilders, the trust would receive funds to (1) meet the current commitments to our veterans at Camp Pendleton and (2) establish a separate financial endowment for the sole benefit and use of Pendleton King Park.
The proposal provides for completing and then phasing out the Camp Pendleton mandate for veterans and only funds sufficient to accomplish that will be segregated for that purpose. All other funds from the sale would be set aside and used to establish an endowment for Pendleton King Park.
Any funds left over after the completion of the Camp Pendleton commitment would be added to the Pendleton King Park endowment to provide additional funds for the future of the park. These funds can be used to support the Pendleton King Foundation, a separate group of committed volunteers, who work tirelessly to enhance and help maintain the park.
“Win-win” is an often-overused cliché, but we believe it fits here: perpetual protection and funding for the park while meeting the promise made to our veterans.
With a creative strategy like this, due diligence is complex and time-consuming. As we work through this process we look forward to cooperation among the trust, the potential buyer and the city of Augusta.
If an agreement with all parties can be reached, it must be approved by the courts, and we fully support the involvement of the district attorney, Natalie Paine, and her efforts. We want this done right and in a way that honors Mr. King’s wishes.
While we certainly hope this solution can come about, it is important to state clearly that Queensborough National Bank and Trust has not, does not, and will not support any resolution that doesn’t fulfill the commitments already made to the veterans currently residing at Camp Pendleton and ensure that Pendleton King Park remains a park for the citizens of Augusta.
The writer is a vice president and trust officer for Queensborough National Bank &Trust Company.