News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Point Mallard Park must not be privatized

By J. Gilmer Blackburn

THE DECATUR DAILY has featured a series of articles about the privatization of Point Mallard Park. These articles contain misinformation and fail to recognize the great benefits of Point Mallard Park as a public park for the people of Decatur.

The articles failed to explain the great differences between a public and private park. As the name indicates, a public park is owned by a public entity and is operated for the benefit of the public. In contrast, a private park as the name indicates has private ownership and is operated for the profit of its owners.

This country has a great tradition of providing public parks for its citizens. Cities have provided parks from the great New York Central Park to various types of local parks for recreation and other activities. Decatur is fortunate to have a number of outstanding public parks, the greatest of which is Point Mallard Park.

The articles also fail to recognize that Point Mallard Park is one of the outstanding public parks in the country. Point Mallard Park has a unique relationship between natural beauty and great recreational facilities. The walking trails along the Tennessee River provide a unique opportunity to participate in the natural beauty of the park. An early morning walk with the sun rising over the Tennessee River is priceless. The golf course at Point Mallard Park has been recognized as an outstanding public golf course. It has an unusual combination of a great golf course in a special natural setting. The aquatic center with its wave pool provides the citizens of Decatur with a quality water park within a family budget.

Great and wonderful assets

Point Mallard Park has other great and wonderful assets including the ice-skating facility, the premier soccer and ball fields, and the recreation center. Each year, people enjoy the wonder of an Alabama Jubilee and the excitement of the Fourth of July celebration at Point Mallard Park. All of Point Mallard's facilities belong to the people of Decatur and are less than 15 minutes away from any part of the city.

If Point Mallard Park is conveyed to private developers, then the private developers will control the development of the park, the uses of the park, and the charges for the park. The increase in charges and regulations on the park's use could disenfranchise a large segment of the public from the use of Point Mallard Park facilities.

The articles also imply that the Point Mallard Park is not successful since it does not produce a profit and should therefore be privatized. A public park, unlike a private park, is not designed to produce a profit. Point Mallard Park was developed with a pay-per-use concept based upon the persons using the facilities paying a fee. These fees are regulated by the city, and it has the opportunity to use public recreation funds to reduce the fees charged at Point Mallard Park.

THE DECATUR DAILY has previously conducted a review of the receipts and disbursements of Point Mallard Park between 1971 and 2000. This report demonstrated that during this time frame Point Mallard Park produced user fees totaling $40,954,997.50 for the city. This reduced the amount of city recreational funds needed for Point Mallard Park. In addition, the report reflected that Point Mallard Park had a positive cash flow over expenses of $2,853,031.17.

The current articles state that Point Mallard Park is operating at a deficit of $500,000. The 2002 financial statement for Point Mallard which includes a full year of operation of all facilities, including the golf course, reflects a deficit of only $172,913.04. If you adjust this figure for a depreciation charge of $437,818.69, which was not funded, the Point Mallard Park would have a surplus for 2002 of $264,905.65.

The articles do not recognize the history of Point Mallard Park as a public park. This history reflects that Point Mallard Park has long been dedicated as a public park and therefore should not be privatized. In the 1960s the people of Decatur were concerned that they had no public park on the Tennessee River. All of the waterfront sites had been previously allocated as commercial sites. I led a successful movement, which converted the Point Mallard Park property from potential commercial use to public recreation.

As a result, Decatur and TVA entered into an agreement that such property would always be used solely for public recreation and no other purposes. The agreement specifically provides that the easement is forever. This agreement dedicated the property as a public park for the benefit of its people and cannot be leased or transferred by the city of Decatur to private interests for a private park development as long as the property is used as a public park. In addition, Decatur has accepted various funds from the federal government for Point Mallard Park as a public park, which require the park to continue as a public park.

Public marina plan

Also, recent articles state that I am pursuing a smaller privatization effort at the 450-acre park on behalf of the city. This statement is grossly misleading. As the leader in establishing Point Mallard Park as a public park, I do not want to be associated in any way with a privatization of Point Mallard Park. I have been asked to coordinate a new public marina adjacent to Point Mallard Park. The federal funds available for the development of the new marina require that the marina be developed as a public marina.

Finally, there is a group which wants to bring a new private recreation park to he Decatur. Point Mallard Park as a public park cannot be used for this development. A site closer to the interstate should be considered.

J. Gilmer Blackburn is a former mayor of Decatur.

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