Clayton commissioner, residents spar over new concession facility

Plans to raze a Riverdale park concession building to make way for a new multipurpose facility that costs nearly half-a-million dollars has raised the ire of some residents who say the money could better spent on other more-pressing matters.

But a county official who has worked for years to bring the new 3,200 square-foot, two-story facility to her district says it fulfills a promise.

“I’m not going to apologize for getting our citizens a first-class facility,” Clayton County District 2 Commissioner Gail Hambrick told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We deserve no less than first-class.”

The $467,419 facility at Flat Shoals Park will have two offices, two bathrooms, storage areas, a concession area as well as a second-floor observation tower that will give game officials and scorekeepers a view of the half-dozen fields in the park.

“It’ll be a shining star for District 2 and it will help make the whole county look good,” Hambrick said.

While it’s being touted as a jewel in an area of the county that needs a boost, community activists say it’s money that could go toward more pressing issues.

“Why are you going to put that much money into something that’s a seasonal type of venue?” said Jeff Benoit, head of the Clayton chapter of the National Action Network.

Given the facility’s price tag, it will cost about $150 a-square-foot to build, said Timothy Jefferson, a Hampton resident and former residential contractor. The average home in Clayton costs about $45 a-square-foot to build, Jefferson added. The current facility could continue to be used if renovated, he said.

“That’s ridiculous. It’s misuse of taxpayers’ money,” Jefferson said.

More troubling, activist Orlando Gooden said, is the fact the facility is being built by Centennial Contractors Enterprise Inc., an Atlanta unit of Centennial Contractors Inc., a Reston, Va.-based firm. The Virginia firm is being sued for $10 million by the Baltimore Housing Authority for shoddy work.

“That has no bearing on our contract. This is a state contract. All contractors who do state work have been vetted,” said Detrick Stanford, Clayton’s chief operating officer and former head of the county’s parks and recreation department. “To date, we have not had anything that gives us pause or concern about going forward.”

The county’s decision to go forward with the facility drew opposition at a recent commission meeting from some residents and Commission Chairman Jeff Turner who said some of the money should have gone toward improvements at the police department or senior center. The issue also has drawn concern from Hambrick’s District 2 challenger in the Nov. 8 election.

“It seems very excessive,” Steven VanDyke, a write-in candidate, said of the cost. “I don’t feel it’s a good use of that money in a district that has many other needs.”

VanDyke, who grew up playing Little League baseball in the park, said the district as a whole needs more sidewalks now that MARTA has returned to Clayton.

But Hambrick noted that the loudest objections come from people who do not live in the district.

“They do not know the history of how this park has been left behind for years,” Hambrick said. “It’s just been in the last six years that upgrades have been made to the park.”

The facility, which she says she took on as a pet project when she first took office in 2009, is being built with money from the 2009 SPLOST as well as federal community block grants. That particular SPLOST money can only be used for park and recreation-related projects, Stanford said.

But updates to the park took a backseat to other county issues and projects. Meanwhile, poor drainage and flooding continued to create wear and tear on the park. The park has helped produce such professional athletes as Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, Green Bay Packers safety Morgan Burnett and Mariah Stackhouse, a Stanford University graduate who just became a pro golfer.

Clayton’s COO Stanford said the county had been looking at doing some type of renovation of the existing concessions building at the park since 2012.

“The price rose after it was determined it would be best to build a facility rather renovate the current one,” he said, noting that some concession equipment in the current facility will be used in the new one.

Shortly after she took office in 2009, Hambrick said she was invited to an event at the park where she noticed it was aging and in need of repair.

“I couldn’t believe the condition of the park,” she said. “It was an embarassment for us when other teams came to Flat Shoals Park.”

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