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Michigan Cities Eye Governor's Parks Challenge

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It's just an idea in a report, but one that has city officials in Flint, Mich., and Genesee County officials thinking:

Does Flint have what it takes to build up a public park so impressive that it not only becomes a great gathering place but also attracts visitors and sparks economic development?

The question is front and center as Gov. Rick Snyder considers seven major recommendations in a new report on state parks and outdoor recreation in Michigan, mlive.com reported.

The 15-member Michigan Blue Ribbon Panel on State Parks and Outdoor Recreation, which included Genesee County Parks and Recreation Commission Director Amy McMillan, made the recommendations.

One of those recommendations calls for some dreaming — the development of signature parks in urban areas like Flint and Saginaw — something McMillan called an "exciting opportunity" and which has Mayor Dayne Walling looking to the Flint River as one potential starting point.

"I see the greatest opportunity along the Flint River," said Walling. "It touches every part of our community."

In addition to Riverbank Park in downtown Flint, the river links together key pieces of the city, including Mott Park, the old Chevy in the Hole site, the Flint Farmers' Market and Kearsley Park.

There's no location pinpointed for a signature park here or elsewhere, but the report to Snyder identifies Millennium Park in Chicago, WaterFire in Providence, R.I., and High Line Park in New York as "notable signature park examples."

McMillan was not available for comment this week but in an e-mail called signature parks "an exciting opportunity to consider in each of the urban core cities, including Flint, where there are some really great conceptual plans that have been designed with this purpose in mind."

The city is in the process of developing a new master plan as well as a five-year plan for its parks, and city officials have worked with Keep Genesee County Beautiful and others to develop long-term plans for several city parks, Walling said.

Karen West, lead consultant for Keep Genesee County Beautiful, called the Flint River "an incredible connector" and said the potential for beautifying an area like Riverbank Park "incredible — something (the park) was supposed to be."

"I guess if I were to dream about the possibilities … it would take some people who are passionate about Flint" to accomplish the task, West said. "The potential is there (but would requires) some dreaming and planning and funding.

"I don't think it's going to be transformed in year or years but maybe over time."

The report to Snyder says developing a signature park will require cities to partner withe private sector, nonprofit organizations, and their state to create parks impressive enough to help interest people living in, working in, and visiting their areas.

"Key to their success is 'activating' the park so that there is activity around the clock and throughout the week — this is what makes a signature park safe, vibrant, and popular," the report says.

"The average dedicated signature park manager relies on six or more sources of funding. Philanthropy is the most prevalent source of funds (89% of signature parks use this source), followed by corporate sponsorships and earned income from concessions and events."

McMillan said the state panel met over the course of an entire year, considering a very broad range of issues related to state parks and outdoor recreation and said the attempt to develop a high-profile park should not divert the city from addressing "serious maintenance and safety challenges in neighborhood parks."

Other Report Suggestions

In addition to the signature parks recommendation, the 41-page report suggests:

  • Identify and protect important natural, cultural, historic and prehistoric resources for the enjoyment and education of Michigan's residents and visitors, and expand stewardship of these resources.
  • Diversify funding and use new criteria to target investments. This includes a recommendation that the state move the Recreation Passport to an "opt-out" system of funding, and pursue expanded revenue bonding authority to address a backlog of priority maintenance and improvement needs at outdoor recreation facilities. In addition, the report recommends re-establishing the State Parks Foundation to accept private donations toward parks projects.
  • Give high priority to investment in the development of regional connected trail networks. The report urges development of a comprehensive trails database available through an easily accessible platform.
  • Encourage greater connections between communities and their recreational assets to strengthen regional identities.
  • Integrate tourism and economic development marketing to fully leverage the economic and social benefits that parks and outdoor recreation resources can provide.
  • Prioritize investment in safety and maintenance of, and access to, parks and recreation spaces.
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