A little orientation and a little history and I'll return to the misdeeds of Indy Parks.
Bel Aire Park is a neighborhood park situated just inside Wayne Township, off Kentucky Avenue with access from Tibbs Avenue, which by that point is just a little neighborhood street. It has a bowl shaped topography that totals 14 acres. Fewer than 3 of those acres are in a semi-flat area that is large enough to accommodate playing fields. It serves neighborhoods that abut it, both in Wayne and Decatur Townships.
The City Parks Plan, adopted in April, 2009, defines a neighborhood park thusly:
Neighborhood parks remain the basic unit of the park system and serve as the recreational and social focus of the neighborhood. They should be developed for both active and passive recreation activities geared specifically for those living in the service area. Accommodating a wide variety of age and user groups, including children, adults, senior citizens, and special populations, is important. Creating a sense of place by bringing together the unique character of the site with that of the neighborhood is vital to successful design. The neighborhood park is designed to provide the types of recreation one would expect to be able to walk to rather than be required to drive to. Neighborhood Parks offer small areas of open space and a sampling of park resources to service individual neighborhoods.
It further defines the service area of a neighborhood park as:
A neighborhood park is limited by geographical or social limits (maximum 20 minutes walking distance). The park primarily serves the local neighborhoods located within a radius of 1/4 to 1/2 mile of the park, without physical or social barriers to the boundaries.
In addition to many other types of parks, the Parks Plan defines 'Sports Complex' as:
The sports complex classification consolidates heavily programmed athletic fields and associated facilities at larger and fewer sites strategically located throughout the community. This allows for:
• Economies of scale and higher quality facilities
• Improved management /scheduling.
• Improved control of facility use.
• Greater control of negative impacts to neighborhood and community parks, such as overuse, noise, traffic congestion, parking, and domination of facilities by those outside the neighborhood.
and among other criteria for how to locate a sports complex is this:
Identifying-athletic field sites prior to residential development is critical too avoiding long-term conflicts.
So, that is the orientation. Indy Parks recognizes that neighborhood parks are there to serve the immediate neighborhood and that organized sports are best suited for larger areas like sports complexes due to their inherent conflict with abutting neighborhoods.
And yet, Indy Parks let a contract this past spring for a soccer league to use Bel Aire Park for 13 days spanning 8 weekends running from April 10 through June 5; taking up 7 consecutive weekends, one weekend off, and finally one day the last weekend. The total fee taken in by Indy Parks was $780. Of course, they didn't bother to inform, much less consult with, the neighbors and the 'Friends of Bel Aire Park' group.
There are so many problems with the contract it isn't funny. While the contract is with Matt Wallace for "Soccer - Adult" and "Central Indiana Amateur Soccer Association", which is an adult league, the players have been from MC United FC, which is a travelling youth soccer league, based in Mooresville and Martinsville, but which is trying to lure Decatur youth from existing Decatur soccer leagues that play at Southwestway Park's permanent soccer facilities. The contract notes an expected number of 35, while one hundred participants and fans are the norm. The contracts, as mentioned runs from April 10 through June 5, but was signed and paid for on May 12; after 9 of the 13 booking days had already been used. The hours assigned for each of the contract days bears no resemblance to the actual hours of use - with far more hours playing soccer than allotted for in the contract.
There have been many problems with the MC United FC use of the grounds, the major one being that it ends up pushing the neighbors out of their own park. It pulls in fans of their opponents, also primarily from outside the County. Parking has been so tight that these fans have been parking on the lawn and on the walking trail that runs around the field. They have left their six soccer goals up, keeping others from using the fields for other things during the week, and encouraging adult soccer fans to come use the fields after work, again crowding out the neighbors during the week. Allen McClendon, Senior Manager of Community Partnerships, eventually got Wallace to agree to a number of things that MC United FC would do, including pulling the goals off the fields and chaining them up (never happened), no parking on the grass (got somewhat better by parking on nearby private property without the permission of that property owner), and bringing in port-o-lets (which did happen). But, at a recent meeting between the neighbors (who also represent the Friends of Bel Aire Park) and Indy Parks, McClendon said that it was his decision, not the neighbors', and if the league violated just one more rule, the contract would be cancelled. Well, how many times does a group get to violate the rules when they should never have been granted permission to take over a neighborhood park to begin with???? It is absurd. But, evidently $780 means more to Indy Parks than its mission and the Indianapolis public.
And what about Bel Aire Park? How did it get to be an Indy Park? Well, the neighbors got the land donated by Martin-Marietta during a zoning matter back in 2000-2001. It had previously been drive-in movie theater called 'Bel Aire' before being acquired by Martin-Marietta. It was transferred to Indy Parks in 2002. Most of the improvements have been because of the neighbors. They used their influence with Martin-Marietta and Southside Landfill to provide labor and materials to grade and sod the field, put in a gravel parking lot, and fence the perimeter, among other things. The neighbors throw an annual fundraiser every year, the proceeds of which amount to $4000 - $5000, which is spent entirely on improvements in the park, such as a climbing rock, playground area, drinking fountain and walking trail. A shelter was erected as part of a deal between Martin-Marietta and Indy Parks, that MM would donate $25,000 of gravel for Indy Parks use anywhere and in turn Indy Parks would make an equal dollar improvement at Bel Aire. Joe Wynns, previous Director of Indy Parks, donated used playground equipment from another park. Bottom line, this Park would not exist, and certainly not exist in its current shape and condition, without the continued efforts of the neighborhood abutting it. It truly IS THEIR PARK.
But, they were not consulted before the contract to allow the soccer league to play was let. They were not consulted before it was decided to renew that contract for yet another 8 weekends in the fall. There was that meeting last week, but it was evident that the decision to renew had already been made and the real purpose of the meeting was to hope the neighbors backed down and agreed to not protest the renewal. That has not happened. Instead, the neighbors are frustrated and fed up. Talk in the neighborhood is to not hold any more fundraisers for the park they can no longer use. The fundraiser, a combined gospelfest/old car show/chili cookoff, is held the 3rd Saturday of every August, and it is too far into this year's planning to halt now. But, if the neighbors' dissatisfaction with the strong arm tactics of Indy Parks and the fact that they can't use their own park isn't assuaged, Indy Parks stands to lose $4000-$5000 in Bel Aire Park improvements each year --- all for the sake of $780 twice a year from a group that has shown clearly that it hasn't obeyed the rules set down for it and which clearly should never have been located at this Park.
If Indy Parks mission, and the fact that it is there to serve the public, is not enough for the crew that currently runs that Department, then you would think that they could at least come to realize that they are being penny wise and pound foolish. But, its all about how much money in cold heartless cash that can be wrung from public lands, not how Parks can be improved to better serve Indianapolis residents.