BG to the rescue: $1.9 million OK’d for pickleball, dog park, paths and bathrooms

Bowling Green Council on Thursday allocated up to $1.925 million of its remaining American Rescue Plan Act funds to a number of projects and entities – including to proposed pickleball courts and a dog park.

Monies allocated to some of the projects are contingent on the fulfillment of certain criteria laid out by council. Additional allocations are expected in the future.

Council had approximately $3 million to allocate.

Earlier this year, the public had a series of opportunities to supply input, including via an online questionnaire, lobby visitation at meetings, a May 15 meeting where council specifically heard proposals, and via email submissions.

“There has been a great deal of input on this matter,” said Council President Mark Hollenbaugh. “With the requests we received in person before the May 31 deadline, we had 27 items. That, combined with what we received from the online questionnaire, which was over 430 distinctly identifiable things … gave us a list of over 450 items.

“From that list of 450 items, council members selected seven items and those items were responsible for generating the talking point list that we will be using this evening.”

Council members utilized a rubric, based on eight criteria, to rank the projects.

Council voted to set aside $150,000 each to two much-discussed projects: the outdoor pickleball court project, and the project to establish walkable neighborhood dog parks.

“I know that pickleball is in the parks’ five-year master plan, and I know that some fundraising has been done on pickleball,” Hollenbaugh said. “I think there is still some question as to how much exactly a pickleball facility is going to cost.”

Councilman Greg Robinette said that, despite that, council could allocate money to help move the project forward.

“The other thing I think is important is, the city’s moving forward,” he said. “And while the total cost isn’t settled yet… any funds that we allocate to this project will also help in obtaining matching funds” through grants.

Speaking about both pickleball courts and dog parks, Hollenbaugh suggested that perhaps council not allocate specific amounts just yet, and wait to receive periodic reports from the parks or the administration about the progress of the projects.

Councilman Bill Herald formally moved for a $150,000 allocation for the pickleball courts. Robinette suggested amending it to $200,000, an amount which Hollenbaugh and councilmen Jeff Dennis and Joel Odorisio said they were unsure about.

A motion to revise the amount down to $100,000 failed, with Hollenbaugh, Rachel Phipps, Robinette, Nick Rubando and Herald against.

The $150,000 figure passed unanimously.

Later in the meeting, Herald suggested $150,000 be allocated for the dog park project, saying he expected a similar discussion to that about the pickleball courts.

“We don’t know what the pickleball cost is going to be,” Hollenbaugh said. “It’s going to be somewhere between 200-some-thousand and 800,000, and we allocated $150,000. It’s very similar with dog parks. We’re not sure what the cost is going to be. But I think the estimates we’ve been given are around $200,000.”

He said that, then $150,000 would be 75% of the amount.

Dennis said that would depend on the location, and that a feasibility study is being done by BGSU graduate students in the Master’s of Public Administration program. He said the goal in the parks’ master plan is for multiple dog parks, so $150,000 would go a long way towards establishing one park. Dennis formally moved for the $150,000 figure.

“I think if we do allocate money right now, these are funds that are going to have to be reviewed at the end of 2024,” said Robinette.

The measure passed 6-1, with Hollenbaugh voting against.

After lengthy discussion, council also voted unanimously to allocate a pool of $500,000 to aid non-profits adversely affected by the pandemic. Criteria for administering these grants are to be created by a council committee, with guidance provided by the city’s grants administrator. The allocation evolved from a suggestion initially made by Herald.

Council also voted unanimously to ask a council committee look into the possibilities of developing a grant program for downtown businesses affected by the pandemic.

Initially, a request had been made that just under $416,000 be made available in a grant relief fund for businesses adversely affected by road construction and the pandemic.

Robinette moved that some sort of fund available to all city businesses be created at $500,000.

Hollenbaugh said he felt uncomfortable with taking public monies and handing them out to businesses. Odorisio said he would support monies for businesses affected first by the 2019 street closures in downtown Bowling Green and then by COVID.

“It seems like there are a lot of questions here to be setting aside $500,000,” Dennis said.

As an example, he said that if a $50,000 check was given to a business, who then uses it to pay off a loan to a bank in New York, that would swiftly take the money out of the community.

Ultimately, the proposed $500,000 grant program, with a city-wide scope and criteria to be developed by council, failed, with Hollenbaugh, Odorisio, Phipps, Rubando and Dennis voting against.

After Dennis proposed $110,000 for a feasibility study on improving the pedestrian experience in the downtown, it was noted by Aspacher that it could be discussed as part of the Downtown Forward visioning process.

“I think that is a great idea,” Dennis said.

Council voted against a proposal at the end of the meeting by Herald to allocate $175,000 for sidewalk improvements over the next three years. Rubando said he felt the amount was arbitrary.

“I also feel that this is something that’s been tacked onto the end of our evening,” Hollenbaugh said.

One suggestion was that it should be saved for council’s upcoming strategic planning meeting.

Hollenbaugh, Odorisio, Phipps, Robinette and Rubando voted against the sidewalk proposal.

The city was allocated $7.3 million total from ARPA; the funds must be committed by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026.

Prior to Thursday’s meeting, council had approved ARPA investments including residential paving ($3 million); MARCS communication radios to improve public safety communications ($350,000); a City Park paving project which will include road widening, a walking path, and security improvements such as cameras and lighting ($250,000); inclusive playground support for the Wood County Plays project at Carter Park ($100,000); housing grants ($300,000 over three years); and lost revenue replacement for the city’s pool and waterpark complex ($20,000).

BG ‘rescue’ funds

Also receiving allocations were:

• $75,000 for downtown public restrooms, to be located across from Wooster Green, in what was formerly the Huntington Bank building. The matter passed 6-1, with Dennis voting against. Uncertainty surrounding the final cost for the project was a point of discussion.

• $75,000 for an innovation and entrepreneurship accelerator feasibility study requested by Bowling Green Economic Development.

• $100,000 for downtown alleyway infrastructure improvements requested by the Downtown Bowling Green Special Improvement District.

• $180,000 for the construction of a shared-use path from the Bowling Green High School to the Community Center. A grant is paying for 90% of the project’s cost and the allocation represents the remaining 10%.

• $20,000 for updates and improvements at the city’s disc golf course at Carter Park. The Parks and Recreation Department will work with the Gas Disc Golf organization on the project.

• $25,000 for a feasibility study for a hike and bike trail from Crim Elementary to Carter Park, requested by the East Side neighborhood group.

• $350,000, requested by the city, for cost overruns on the ongoing residential paving projects. Mayor Mike Aspacher explained that “these are something distinctly other than normal construction cost overruns… This is way over and above that. It’s supply chain, it’s inflation, it’s labor,” and other issues affecting the project.

• An additional $300,000, over three years, for a housing grant program administered by the city.