By Cody Fitzpatrick and Edder Diaz Martinez
Lobbying from a local community group for more downtown parks funding in Phoenix’s trial budget appears to have fallen on deaf ears.
The city of Phoenix is currently in the process of gathering community feedback on its 2017-2018 trial budget, which requests an additional $1.9 million for its Parks and Recreation Department. But local activists are concerned the city’s plans for the $1.9 million will not benefit residents of downtown Phoenix.
The proposed parks funding is mainly intended to create 22 new park ranger positions. The move aims to expand trailhead hours at mountain parks and preserves.
According to Sean Sweat, president of the Urban Phoenix Project, the proposed budget does not do enough for downtown. Sweat voiced his concerns before the mayor, city manager and budget director at Tuesday’s community budget hearing at the First Institutional Baptist Church.
“When you drive around, it looks like downtown might have a lot of parks, but when you don’t have a car and you’re walking everywhere, those distances become very different,” Sweat said.
Sweat said Phoenix needs a large number of small parks scattered throughout the downtown area.
“We need more parks downtown,” Sweat said. “They don’t have to be very big, but we need lots of small parks — a third of an acre — to make sure downtown is a livable, walkable space.”
Downtown’s largest park is Hance Park, located between McDowell and Roosevelt roads just east of the light rail.
The Hance Park Master Plan has a $118 million price tag and is not part of the trial budget. Instead, it would mostly be paid for by corporate sponsors. According to Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department spokesman Greg Bach, the project is still in its “design phase.”
In the upcoming fiscal year, the department will create guidelines for sponsorship. The Phoenix-based company Cable One has committed $100,000, but the city is actively looking for other sponsors that want naming rights to the project.
A small portion will be funded by taxpayers through the Phoenix Parks and Preserve Initiative Program, a voter-approved one-tenth sales tax passed in 1999, whose revenues go toward improving Phoenix’s parks system.
“We have not looked at specific dollar amounts (from sponsors) yet,” Bach said. “The board is currently working on the guidelines to present the projects to donors.”
The redevelopment will include a new amphitheater as well as a skate park.
“We want to make it a destination location centered around the Valley’s activities,” Bach said.
As for the small parks that members of the Urban Phoenix Project want scattered throughout the downtown area, the city of Phoenix does not seem to have any plans for this, according to Tammy Vo, Phoenix’s budget and research spokesperson.
Bach said Parks and Recreation’s portion of the budget is geared toward hiring park rangers and said Hance Park is the Department’s area of focus for downtown, though Hance Park is not part of the $1.9 of additional funding included in the trial budget.