Saturday, January 7th, 2017
City, trust reach deal on plans for Bryson park
By William Kincaid
CELINA - City officials and Bryson Trust Fund representatives reached an agreement late last month on how to develop a new lakeside park.
The city is moving forward with a rough conceptual design for what will be called the Bryson Park District and mayor Jeff Hazel promises work of some kind will happen this year.
"In the next couple of weeks we will have a preliminary conceptual drawing of where the amphitheater is going to be," Hazel said, adding that Bassett Associations of Lima has been selected as the landscape designer at a maximum cost of $18,500.
"We're not going to build $15 million worth of stuff tomorrow, so we need some kind of concept to work with," he said.
Mercer County Probate Court Judge Mary Pat Zitter approved a petition outlining protections to be enforced on 8 acres of land in the city's possession - the former Mercelina Mobile Court and Versa Pak building - that trust officers have committed to paying 90 percent of the cost. The private trust, set up over six decades ago for the benefit of Celina's children, is managed by First Financial Bank.
Zitter's ruling capped a yearlong series of negotiations between the two sides. Hazel said he, council president Jason King and city law director George Moore met probably five times with trust officer Carolyn Pancake, attorney Molli Schleucher and county assistant prosector Andy Hinders.
"It has been a long process, but I think we certainly have reached an amicable consensus on the expenditure of those funds and how the city is going to closely tie any and all development with the trustee and the court," Hazel said.
Asked about sticking points arising in negotiations, Hazel said it took time for both sides to find common ground in interpreting and carrying out the trust fund's intent, which originally was "for the use and benefit of the public play grounds in Mercelina Park ... "or to assist in the construction of a public swimming pool."
Hazel said he is pleased the protections approved by Zitter will allow for consideration of improvements to parkland rather than requiring an overall, rigid layout.
"We didn't believe it was prudent to agree to a fixed plan of which none of us had any design expertise," Hazel said. "If it was all carved in marble here, that would be a tremendous burden not only for us today but going in the future."
The six protections state how the park can be developed. Any and all improvements, additions, modifications, construction or enhancement on the land that the fund will help purchase must be pre-approved by the trust fund officers and the probate court.
Not all of the land is under the trust's control, notably the hot water hole and parking lot.
"We want to work very closely with the trustee and the court because we want to certainly abide by the restrictions, and we want to honor the late Ed Bryson and his philanthropy," Hazel said.
City officials, Hazel noted, will proceed carefully when considering amenities for the Bryson Park District.
"This piece of property becomes a legacy for the city of Celina because we are a destination place," he said.
The Harley Jones Rotary Memorial Amphitheater likely will be a cornerstone of the new parkland, Hazel said. The city received $1.2 million in state capital dollars to construct it. An exact location has not been chosen, but Hazel has speculated that an amphitheater capable of holding at least 500 people would be built somewhere in the park.
Also, many individuals and entities are interested in donating toward the purchase and installation of a splash pad, fit trails, benches and other park features, Hazel pointed out.
"We look to our community and our citizens to be a partner in this," he said.
City council members in 2014, on behalf of the fund, borrowed $2.64 million from Mercer County to help buy the former Versa Pak building and the Mercelina Mobile Court. The total price was $2.2 million for the Mercelina land and $745,000 for the Versa Pak property.
The Bryson Trust fund, which committed to paying 90 percent of the property purchase price, is responsible for all the principal, interest and other fees associated with the note.
Furthermore, the trust intends to soon make a $1.15 million downpayment on the debt, Hazel said.
Bryson was a prominent city attorney. His initial endowment of $232,521, managed by what is now First Financial Bank in Celina, has financed millions of dollars in park projects and grown in excess of $10 million.
City officials annually make park-related purchase requests to trust officers. Zitter, though, must sign off on all requests.
"The city (is) the only recipient of the fund, but the city doesn't own that fund, the bank has that fund," Hazel stressed. "The will was very specific when it (was given) to the bank - it would be for the benefit of the children of Celina."
Limitations on development:
Under an agreement authorized by Mercer County Probate Court Judge Mary Pat Zitter, the following protections will be strictly enforced on parkland purchased with funds committed by the Bryson Trust Fund:
• Any and all improvements, additions, modifications, construction or enhancement thereupon the land ... shall not commence without the pre-approval of the Bryson Trust Fund and Mercer County Probate Court. If such actions are taken without prior court order, the person, persons or entity responsible for all expenses and costs of their action(s) and the necessary actions must return it to its original condition.
• The property shall not be resold and must forever remain a part of what is now known as Mercelina Park and what will be renamed Bryson Park District.
• All concrete slabs, streets and curbs from the prior mobile home lots and roads shall be removed and grass shall be planted in its place, including, but not limited to, the addition of dirt to build up the ground prior to any other improvements to the lands.
• Trees, grass and general landscaping may be added or improved upon where the prior mobile home slabs existed or within the green space.
• Elm Grove Street can be partially vacated with break-away bars installed or developed into a cul-de-sac with access made available to the remaining residential properties.
• No waterways, ponds or water holding areas shall be obstructed or filled in.