Middletown won’t spend more money on River Center project

6:00 a.m. Wednesday, May 10, 2017 Local News
An artist’s rendition of the $1 million River Center facility in Middletown that will be constructed by MetroParks of Butler County.The new facility will be located in an unimproved portion of the city’s Bicentennial Commons park along the Great Miami River. CONTRIBUTED

Middletown officials are not interested in providing additional financial support for the proposed River Center hub on the edge of downtown overlooking the Great Miami River.

At last week’s council meeting, none of the council members expressed interest in providing about $200,000 to help build out the facility, particularly at a time of tight city budgets.

City Manager Doug Adkins told council that Jonathan Granville, executive director of the MetroParks of Butler County, had exchanged several emails with the city about finding a way to plug a funding gap to build the proposed facility with the amenities they envisioned.

“They are finding some funding gaps from what they originally wanted to do versus what they now have on the table,” Adkins said. “It was $1.5 million. It’s now down to $1.3 million.”

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Adkins said MetroParks asked if the city would get involved and provide the gap funding. Adkins told Granville that he would bring that question to the council.

Prior to the council meeting, Adkins said Granville indicated that MetroParks would move forward on Phase 1 of the project and build it in a way so that it could be expanded at a later date. The project received a $1 million State Capital Improvement Project grant in February 2015.

Adkins laid out four options for the city:

* Support the smaller $1.3 million concept with no further city assistance.

* Assist MetroParks directly in the project and have city staff to look at funding options.

* Provide funding less than $200,000 and reduce the size of project and amenities to between the $1.3 million and $1.5 million versions.

* Ask MetroParks to abandon the project unless it can build what they originally presented without city assistance.

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Adkins said MetroParks needed a response because it will bid out the project in the next few weeks to meet grant deadlines. The MetroParks Board of Park Commissioners meets later this month.

Councilman Talbott Moon said that the city was on the right track and that the project should move ahead with the smaller building and using sponsorships and naming rights to raise additional revenues.

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However, Councilman Dan Picard was adamant in his opposition to spending any city funds on the proposed project.

“I am very much opposed to anything down there that doesn’t meet the current zoning,” Picard said. “(I’m) not interested in hearing about any potential zoning changes and variances, and I’m not interested in this city spending one dime down there.”

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Following the meeting, Picard said MetroParks has the money. “I’m not interested in spending city money for the project. “It’s their problem, not ours,” Picard said.

After the discussion, Adkins said he would let MetroParks know that the city will be staying on the sidelines and let them move forward.

A message seeking comment from MetroParks was left Tuesday afternoon.

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The River Center is envisioned to as a hub for those who walk, run and bike along the regional recreational/bike trail that is managed by MetroParks, according to spokeswoman Kelly Barkley.

When that is completed, trail users will be able to access businesses in downtown Middletown. The planned facility will include public restrooms in addition to meeting and educational spaces. It will also serve as home base for the MetroParks volunteer Trail Ambassador Program and as a substation for MetroParks public safety staff.

Barkley said MetroParks is hoping to begin construction this fall with the project being completed during the second quarter of 2018.

In March, MetroParks released sponsorship opportunities for the River Center project that listed $1.3 million for the naming rights to the entire facility being designed. The county-wide park district furthers its mission by offering sponsorship opportunities through monetary or in-kind support for programs, services or facilities.

Other sponsorships ranged from benches to conference rooms with prices going from $2,000 to more than $250,000, depending on the item.

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