Faced with spending more than $100,000 to develop a downtown mini-park originally expected to cost much less, the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners decided 4-0 Thursday afternoon to delay funding approval.
Board members said they needed more time before making a decision, with the proposed expense one area of concern.
“The (mini-park) is very tastefully designed,” Commissioner Shirley Brinkley said of the latest plan for the facility eyed at the corner of North Main and West Oak streets in a parking lot adjoining Mayberry Toy Co.
“But I feel like it is a lot of money to spend,” Brinkley added of the expense posed.
After comments by Brinkley and other council members Thursday afternoon when construction bids for the mini-park were presented, Commissioner Steve Yokeley moved that a vote on funding be delayed until the board’s next meeting two weeks later.
Some sentiment was expressed Thursday that much time already had been devoted to the issue officials have discussed off and on for months.
Yokeley explained, however, that the delay will allow another group, Mount Airy Downtown Inc., to review the matter when it meets in the interim. That organization makes infrastructure improvements in the central business district, such as parking lots, through a special tax, and possibly can pinpoint some funding options for the mini-park.
“If we do anything, I think it needs to be done nice,” Yokeley said.
The proposed mini-park, envisioned for a small strip of land donated to the city government, is seen as an enhancement to the downtown area offering shoppers a pleasant place to relax. It would contain basic features such as benches and planters — similar to Lowry Park farther down the street, and an additional element which has caused the proposed expense to balloon.
That is a gazebo to accommodate small musical performances or similar events at the site, donated to the city by Main Street Granite in exchange for the municipality constructing a sidewalk alongside the building it owns which houses the toy store.
Thursday’s presentation to the commissioners, by City Engineer Mitch Williams, detailed bids to build the mini-park which recently were obtained from four local contractors. They were asked to submit proposals on a plan including the gazebo and one without that structure.
Bids from Smith-Rowe were the lowest, both for the basic construction package ($53,406) and the option including the gazebo ($114,147). Those two proposals from the highest overall bidder, Master Craft Builders, total $64,447 and $187,791, respectively. Master Craft’s bid for the gazebo portion is more than double that of Smith-Rowe, $123,344 to $60,741.
The two other contractors made offers in the middle of those two extremes, Coram Construction and David Hill Builders. The average of all the bids for both facets of work totaled more than $145,000.
Williams explained that the gazebo, of 16 by 20 feet, would be equipped with electrical connections to power public address systems or lighting, and its design also reflects a part of local history. The mini-park property is where the Blue Ridge Hotel, a local landmark, once was located, and the concept for the gazebo contains a turret resembling what the hotel had, an option adding up to $15,000 to the overall price tag.
“It is a pretty historic site,” said Williams. “It is the highest point on Main Street.”
At 320 square-feet, the gazebo would be about the size of a master bedroom in a house, Williams said in offering a comparison.
Although the lowest bid package from the Smith-Rowe company totals $114,146, Williams said that through negotiations and adjustments a final price of between $100,000 and $105,000 is possible.
This would fund the gazebo as well as the other elements of the mini-park, including brick seating sections, concrete walkways, walls and planters.
A nice mini-park could not be built for less than $25,000 to $30,000, according to the city engineer. “Construction is expensive,” he said at one point Thursday afternoon.
However, reluctance was evident on the part of the commissioners after the presentation.
Brinkley expressed concern about so much money being spent in a relatively small space, 1,800 square-feet, compared to Lowry Park located elsewhere downtown which has 3,600 square-feet.
“This is not a large area,” she said, mentioning that the scope of the project, including the price, had gotten “way out of line.”
Yokeley, in advocating the two-week delay in the vote, said the extra time will provide more opportunity to review the plan now on the table and for Mount Airy Downtown Inc. to address the matter. “I think we need to go through them,” he said.
“I really hate to put it off,” Commissioner Dean Brown said of an issue that has dragged on for months and had action delayed several times previously. “But I think that’s probably the most practical thing to do.”
The commissioners set aside $70,000 in city funding for the mini-park last year, and have said they hope funds raised through other sources, including public donations, could address any cost overruns beyond that.
Main Street Coordinator Lizzie Morrison, who serves the Mount Airy Downtown Inc. group and heard Thursday’s presentation, said it has fundraisers planned which could assist with the mini-park construction. She said one is a Fiddle Crawl campaign that begins later this year.
In other business Thursday afternoon, the city commissioners approved spending $32,000 with a Hickory-based accounting firm to audit the city’s books for the 2013-2014 fiscal year that ends on June 30.
Martin Starnes & Associates has performed Mount Airy’s audit for the past three years as part of a five-year arrangement that reflects a state mandate that local government finances be reviewed annually by an independent entity. The contract with the Hickory firm is required to be renewed each year, board members were told.
“This company has been extremely faithful in what they do,” Mayor Deborah Cochran commented.
Commissioner Jon Cawley said the $32,000 cost of the contract might sound high, but pointed out that the city faced a price of $44,000 to $48,000 from the firm previously handling the annual audit. He said the lower figure with Martin Starnes & Associates is part of an effort to slash expenses of various municipal operations.
“We have shipped a lot of this out to save the taxpayers money,” Cawley said.
The commissioners also approved reappointments or appointments affecting eight members of three different advisory boards or groups.
Brandon Hiatt and David Jones were approved for new three-year terms on the Mount Airy Planning Board, with Jim Cavallo named as a new member to replace Chris Price, who has elected not to seek reappointment. All three terms will expire on Oct. 31, 2016.
Four people were reappointed or appointed to the city Tourism Development Authority, reflecting various facets of the local tourist and/or marketing communities.
Lenise Lynch was reappointed as a member from the accommodations segment; Jatin Patel was appointed as a new chamber of commerce member, replacing Greg Perkins, who elected not to seek reappointment; and Commissioner Brinkley was reappointed as a city council representative and Pam Stone as an ex-officio member representing the municipal finance department.
Lynch and Patel were approved for new three-year terms ending on Jan. 15, 2017, and Brinkley and Stone to one-year terms expiring in January 2015.
Sharon G. Reid was reappointed to a new five-year term as a commissioner for the governing board of the city housing authority. Reid’s term ends on Feb. 16, 2019.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-719-1924 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.