Effort underway to save Beale Park

Published 6:47 pm Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Longtime supporters hope to keep the facility

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

A group of individuals are forming a committee to raise the money needed to avert the sale of Beale Park in Smithfield. 

The nascent committee was the result of a public meeting led Thursday by the Smithfield Recreation Association Board of Directors. Under discussion was the possible sale of the 50-year facility to pay the organization’s $300,000 obligation to the Town of Smithfield for the use of the new Joseph W. Luter Jr. sports complex. 

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In addition, SRA will pay a yearly rental fee of $25,000. 

Smithfield Director of Parks and Recreation Amy Novak said the $300,000 is not due until the turn lane into the Luter complex is completed, and gave a deadline of January 2020. 

Vince Dukote stepped forward to lead the effort, and a group of interested individuals gathered at one end of the room as the meeting at The Smithfield Center came to a close. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

This should have happened before the decision to sell the property, said Dukote to a room of people who had mostly stood up in opposition to the sale.

“We’re going to raise this money,” he said 

SRA President Chris Kennedy started the meeting by pointing out that no one on the Board of Directors wants to sell the property, but that it appeared to be the only way to make the transition to the new sports complex financially feasible. 

Kennedy said it costs $25,000 a year to operate Beale Park — the same amount SRA had committed to paying the town on a yearly basis to use the Luter facility. 

Kennedy said Beale Park likely needs another $750,000 to $1 million in capital improvements to keep it running effectively. 

Another issue was the lack of volunteer participation at Beale Park — and adding the Luter facility to that would be too much, said Kennedy. 

The Board didn’t think it could generate enough volunteers to run both facilities, he said. 

The cost of running two facilities would mean another rate hike to members, Kennedy said, adding that the property has been appraised for $450,000.

A sale at that price would allow SRA to meet its obligation to the town, as well as put some money in the bank for future financial stability, he said.

Others criticized the Board for not bringing the question of selling Beale Park to an open discussion earlier. 

SRA had floated the idea of selling Beale Park for the new Luter facility publicly since 2013, according to earlier news stories in The Smithfield Times.

Those in the audience alternated between telling stories of sentimental attachments to Beale Park to concerns about the new Luter facility, particularly in light of infrastructure problems there as construction comes to an end. 

Other concerns centered on what the property would be turned into if sold, where neighborhood children would play if Beale Park were gone, safety at the Luter facility, and fears that the town would kick SRA out if a better prospect came along. 

Some were critical that SRA was trading three fields and two batting cages that it owned for renting four fields and four batting cages.

Billy Holleman, who lives next door to Beale Park and cuts the grass there, said, “I would hate to miss the children yelling and screaming and the parents arguing with the umpires.” 

L.D. Joyner, 80, told the story of how Carl Beale Sr. decided to donate the land for recreational purposes 50 years ago.

“Mr. Beale would turn over in his grave if he knew Beale Park was going to be sold,” he said. 

Part of the impetus for the new Luter complex was that SRA was outgrowing Beale Park. 

The 3.8-acre Beale Park is zoned neighborhood residential, according to Smithfield Director of Planning, Zoning and Public Works William Saunders.

Neighborhood residential allows for a maximum density of two units per developable acre, according to the town’s zoning ordinance. 

As such, a rezoning application could be made for this property to change its designation, he said.  {/mprestriction}