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Debate over Phoenix Park continues

A couple of Selma City Council members hammered out pieces of an agreement Thursday afternoon to present to the full council and members of the Selma-Dallas County Historic Preservation Society that would see a park on Water Avenue.

The agreement resulted from a discussion Tuesday during the full city council meeting. City Attorney Jimmy Nunn proposed a contract and George Needham, a member of the historic society, said he would walk away from the voluminous document without signing it. Later, the society offered a one-page document outlining its responsibilities for the so-called Phoenix Park, which would cover a vacant lot between the Pilcher Building and Sherman Powell Building on Water Avenue, across the street from the St. James Hotel.

Council members Dr. Monica Newton, chair of the city council Administrative Committee, and the Rev. Dr. Cecil Williamson, a committee member, discussed at length the one-page document. The document, among other things, proposed the area for the park remain under the control of the society for seven years or the city would return the full documented cost of constructing the park to the society without arbitration or legal action.

“I think most likely what we’re going to have to do is amend Mr. Needham’s document and take out things that don’t fly and add,” Newton said.

She raised a question about the seven-year clause, adding that most of the items in the letter of understanding are in Nunn’s contract, which had proposed a month-to-month lease, giving the society 60 days notice if the city found another use for the property.

The key issue, said Williamson, rests in whether the city will allow the society its seven year use of the property.

“The thing is if you’re going to put $100,000 in this that you should say 10 years and if the city should break it, just refund them the $100,000,” Newton said.

The plan for the Phoenix Park shows a gazebo in the center to allow people to sit and rest while in the park. The gazebo could serve also as a bandstand for local groups to entertain. A red brick path circles the band stand, and along the way are drawings of plants, including boxwood hedges and Japanese maples. The plans show a red brick fence on the front linked by a day gate.

Day gates also are planned for the right and the left extremes of the brick wall. A new wall is suggested for the backside of the lot with another day gate. The plan becomes a bit futuristic, turning older buildings on either side — the Pilcher Building and the Sherman Powell Building — into homes with loft apartments decorated with murals. The Ammons Building at the back hosts a snack bar in the plans.

Needham said the society would finish the park in phases. The first phase calls for the city to clear debris, secure the buildings on three sides and refill dirt to grade. The historic society would develop preliminary details, secure licensed contractors, survey available recovered artifacts and prepare the final design of covered areas.

Contractors would paint murals, construct three covered areas, stub the utilities, pave the area, prepare shrub and flower beds and sod the base soil, install the remainder of the watering system, sod and install electricity and lighting and rough in the underground systems.

“In actuality the park ought to be a part of the comprehensive plan,” Williamson said of the Water Avenue plan to turn the river front behind the St. James and The Restaurant on Grumbles Alley into a large park with walkways and a floating dock along the river. “It needs some green space.”

Later, Mayor George Evans came into the meeting and, when asked by Williamson, said he supports the idea of a park in the area.