A rerouted greenway extension drew mixed reviews from the Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Tuesday, June 4 during their work session.
In 2018, Parks and Recreation Director Bonnie Gamble received nearly $1 million in grant funds from the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT), with $300,000 matching funds from the city. The original project would connect the Little Duck River Greenway at Riverview Alternative School and extend it toward Great Stage Park, which is home to Bonnaroo. It would be done in three phases: Riverview School (completed), extend it to Emerson Street during the second phase, and then the final phase would connect it to the Manchester Coffee County Conference Center.
However, some property owners were not in favor of the greenway being put on their land for the second phase of the extension. Therefore Gamble had to come up with a new route that was still within the scope of the grant. Her idea was to build the final phase next and then connect the final phase to the Little Duck River Greenway in the future.
But not all of the aldermen were impressed.
“I was for extending the greenway, but I am totally against going from the conference center into Bonnaroo,” said Alderman Marilyn Howard. “With the needs of sidewalks, I cannot see going from the conference center through Bonnaroo – if Bonnaroo wants to pay us the $300K, that would be a different story, but I don’t think they would – I would be totally against going from the conference center through Bonnaroo.”
Alderman Mark Messick followed up by asking Gamble if she could continue with the original plan, but go around people’s property. Gamble explained she tried that, but couldn’t get around it.
Vice Mayor Bill Nickels pointed out that BOMA does not have priorities in place for a spending plan and he is uncomfortable spending $300K on a greenway that doesn’t connect.
“This has to be a whole new greenway; we’re starting all over,” Nickels said. “It has to be a separate thing now. It only came up because of the original part. Now, the middle part is gone and I think gone forever, and now, the end part might not connect…it seems like it’s out there. Would it be really awful to have extra money to have this for a future thing, to go out there, track, wait for growth?”
Gamble pointed said that even if the connection between the two greenways doesn’t occur in the near future, she can envision extending the conference center’s greenway to Beans Creek Winery.
Howard was not convinced. She explained she’d rather see the $300K go toward Skinner Flat Road or putting in sidewalks on Hills Chapel Road.
“When industry comes into town they look at those roads and sidewalks,” she said.
Alderman Ryan French was against her argument.
“I can take you to 50 roads in Murfreesboro that need to have sidewalks, but I can also show you where they invested a great deal into recreation and greenway systems at the same time,” he said. He added that Howard’s argument of ‘why spend money here when you can spend it elsewhere’ could be applied to any project the city undertakes.
“I just don’t like the argument we can’t do this because we’ve got this,” he said.
Both Howard and Nickles believe the MCCCC greenway, if built, would not be used by local people.
Gamble pointed out the same logic was used when she was trying to get the Recreation Complex built.
“You obviously know where my heart is, so that’s the way it is,” Gamble said. “The mayor can shake his head, but 16 years ago, we probably had the same conversation about the Rec. Complex. There’s people who come up to today and say ‘man, I was wrong when I said no you shouldn’t do that.’”
“It’s been such an advantage to us economically and the communities around us,” she continued. “That’s all I would say – remember that. The same thing with the soccer complex – I got hammered on that one. Now I have people saying ‘it’s so great we have that out there.’”
“Now we’ve got the greenway out there, we’ve got the dog park, we’ve got a community garden, we got a teaching kitchen there. All these things have been vision-forward. I know we are always going to have issues. It’s your decision, but I would certainly not like to tell the state after we’re fortunate enough that they judge your project, deny others, and say ‘sorry, but we’re going to turn it in,’” she concluded.
If the grant money is not used or the project changes too much, the funds would have returned to the state.
Water and Sewer Department Director Bryan Pennington asked if, instead of the MCCCC, is Gamble could look into running the Riverview School extension parallel down Emerson Street, drop off into the woods and head toward Mckellar Drive before going to Wolf Creek.
Gamble pointed out she would have to go to more property owners with the idea, but she was willing to look into it as an alternative.
Howard, Messick and Nickles would be for the project if it all connect, they said.
Alderman Chris Elam explained he is for the project at the MCCCC– he sees no difference in building the final phase of the greenway project before the connecting one.
Alderman Bob Bellamy was not present at the meeting.
Manchester Mayor Lonnie Norman spoke up briefly and asked Gamble to looking all options because he didn’t see the need to turn the grant money back into the state.
“If you turn it in, it’s going to be a long time before we get another one,” he said.
Gamble and MCCCC General Manager Rebecca French have been working on the new route.
“We reached out to all of the landowners affected and received some letters,” French said. She explained she received positive feedback from landowners about the project.
“Bonnie and I are communication and we’re going to try and work together on this. I don’t know if it will come to fruition, but at least there is a lot of communication with large landowners on this side. We’re going to see if we’re going to get the greenway to come down here where we already need sidewalks and make it accessible from the conference center.”
French explained she and MCCCC staff see an average of six or seven people per week stop at the MCCCC to walk their dogs.