Mayor addresses finances of Bishop Park

By Martin Couch

Bryant Mayor Larry Mitchell had some concerns that information about Bishop Park spending an additional $2.1 million to complete construction of a state-of-the-art park, might be misinterpreted by the public.

First and foremost, he said, all money spent to build Bishop Park was approved by the City Council.[more]

The original idea of the park was started by the initiative of several different groups of people within Bryant, calling themselves People of the Park, who got together and wanted a new city park. These groups were made up of aquatics, baseball, softball, soccer, the Boys and Girls Club, the Senior Adult Center and others. It was decided there was a need for a community center for all of the people, not just one special group.

A special election to initiate a 1-cent sales tax within the city to build the park was held in July of 2007 and passed by the citizens 61 percent to 39 percent. ETC, a special engineer firm which was constructing a similar park in Paragould, was called on to draw up plans for Bishop Park. At the time, the Paragould Park cost $16 to $17 million dollars to build and Bryant's park would be close to that price for basics, according to a study by ETC.

At that point, the city hired ETC to start designing a park for Bryant and all the different groups who had originally put together the initiative sat down and worked with the design.

"So we ended up with a very, very nice park with nine baseball fields, six softball fields, two soccer fields, three indoor basketball courts, a Boys and Girls Club, a Senior Adult Center, aquatics and so forth," Mitchell said. "It is a tremendous showpiece for central Arkansas, not just Bryant."

Of course, with the changes and expansions, the price increased for Bishop Park.

"It's like building a house," Mitchell described. "You know what you want in the basic house and then start adding on things. That's basically what happened. The people wanted a bigger Boys and Girls Club and a bigger Senior Adult Center and they wanted eight lanes in the pool instead of six and a diving well. And the list kept going on of requests to put into the plan."

The plan that ETC drew up after consulting with the groups was presented to the City Council and approved.

"Any change that was made was approved through the City Council," Mitchell said. "At that time, though, when you do that, the price goes up as part of that. So when the $16 million came in, it wasn't enough to cover it all."

The plan took a lengthy period to complete by ETC and, during that time, interest on the bond money was growing in the bank.

"The interest rates were quite a bit higher then than they are today and we were able to draw a million dollars on interest off of that 16 million dollars during that period of time," Mitchell said. "Also on the ballot, the initiative was a 1-cent sales tax and a lot of people think that the whole cent goes to the park. It doesn't. Only half of that penny goes to pay off bonds; 1/8 of the penny goes to the operations and management of the park and 3/8 goes to the fire department. When the bonds are paid off, half of that cent comes off and the other half stays on and goes to the operations of the park and the fire department."

That 1/8 cent that started being collected in November of 2007, brought in another $1 million creating $2 million extra to pay for the expansion of the park project. That $2 million still wasn't enough to pay for all the projects, so the City Council agreed to refinance the Fire and Police Department, which brought in an additional $2.1 million dollars to take care of the rest.

"At this point, the park isn't opened yet and there are a few things that may not be covered in the $2.1 million at this time," Mitchell said.

According to the finance office of the city, funding for the splash pad at the aquatics center, the skateboard park and two pavilions will be covered in the $2.1 million. 

"The City Council approved the spending and they looked at it very carefully to keep it under control, but when you have these additions it takes more money," Mitchell said. "It's a beautiful park and anybody who hasn't had a chance to come to see it, you need to. It will really impress you."

Already the Salt Bowl Banquet was held at the new community center.

"We just didn't build the park for the fun of it, they were requested by the different groups who helped sponsor and push the initiative," Mitchell said. "They listened to what they wanted and incorporated it into the plan and this is where it has gotten. The city worked with the people in the town to make sure it all came together and it was what they wanted it to be."

When Bishop Park gets up and running, it will be self-sustaining and will pay for itself through tournaments, summer leagues, swim meets and those types of activities.

"The tax paid for building it, but the operation and maintenance along with the 1/8 fees and the tournaments should bring it around to be self-sustaining in a year or a year and a half," Mitchell said.


  1. Christie Hood

    As a taxpayer in the community I offered a savings on the floor covering only to be told they didn’t like my sales tactics. I was offering a savings of $10-15,000.00 for a better product that was the same colors as the one approved in the City Council meeting,and even warned them of the product they were purchasing. I asked them to at least look a 1-5 year install, knowing there is not one because that manufacturer has not been making carpet tile that long. I knew of numerous issues on other job sites and didn’t want the community center in my hometown , used by my children to suffer from an inferior product. The wood gym floor is another story that should be looked into. In one meeting all flooring bids were thrown out and the low bidder was never awarded the contract.
    I am most concerned about the cost to replace the product at a later date. They are being told to adhere the product to the slab making if much more difficult to pull up, adding a much larger take up cost,when it comes time to replace and this will also nullify the reason they spent extra money to purchase tile in the first place. So the money to replace, which will be soon and will potentially cost a lot more will be coming from where? We taxpayers need to know the truth.
    I have documentation to back up all of these statements. These emails are between Parks Director, City Council, Chamber,Community Center Director and others involved in the selection of the product. As a rep for floorcovering I had possible solutions to offer and tried 4 times to contact the Mayor with no returned phone calls. I emailed a Council member again with no returned response. Where do we all go from here?

  2. Holly Beard

    Here again this is why the city finances are in the shape they are in. We the taxpayer have to be on a budget but our city governments don’t have to be. I wish I could over spend on my budget and someone else would have to foot the bill. This is why people are frustrated all over America. I’m not sure where to go from here but I think the taxpayers and voters need to get involved and make these people in power accountable.

  3. Mark kizer

    Mrs. Hood I know exactly where you are coming from when it comes to the bidding process in Bryant. Its a shame that you offer the same or better product at a cheaper price but then you find out you are not chosen because of political reasons. I truly hate to say that but what other reasons could it be? I am stunned as a voter to know that what the citizens approved in a Tax will not be what we are getting, I was personally shown plans that showed things that will not be completed because they didnt manage proper spending and re-bid projects when it came in over budget. I have almost given up on the fair bidding process because there is always loop-holes where they can choose who they want no matter what the cost is.

    I just hope people wake up and realize this year that there needs to be a change not only in local goverment but nationwide as well.

  4. Bryan Sanders

    I would encourage each of you to go look at the website above.
    Starting in January, compare the agenda for the city council to the minutes. The agenda is set so that we can know what is going on in our town. Then when you read the minutes, note how many items are added by "suspending" the rules. This in itself is not that big of a problem. The isuues start when they not only add somthing to the agenda by suspending the rules, they also wave the 2nd and 3rd readings of the new item and approve it without any public input. Look through these minutes/agendas and you will see an alarming number of these items. This is done so that you can not voice your concerns. I know this sounds trivial, but now go back and look fir the items that concern the new community center. You will see a number of times where the Mayor and city council wave competitive bids for items at the new community center. Now they are $2M over budget, and have some inferior products in the center as well. This is not a coincidence. This is how our mayor has chosen to conduct business! Our current city government treat us like mushrooms! (keep us in the dark and feed us $#!@!) As long as they are not held accountable, this will continue and we will not see the progress we deserve!

    P.S. I attended some of these meetings and watched first hand as this took place. I was shocked and offended as our elected officials showed us such disrespect!!!!!!!!! The "Good Ol’ Boy" network is alive and well in Bryant, and needs to be terminated.

  5. TJ

    I have been made aware our current City Counsil suspending the rules whenever it suits them. This is all over Bryant these days and is quite shocking. Of course or Mayor is passing the buck in the article above by saying the City Counsil the city counsil the city counsil on everything that he doesn’t want to be blamed for. Who is the boss?? Who is going to take the credit for all that is going on in our city that isn’t right?? No one of course!! It is time to do something about over spending and run our city with the tax payers in mind. And the Good Ol’ Boy network needs to be stopped! Wake up voters!! Get out Nov. 2 and vote!

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