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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — As we told you last night, New Hanover County is considering spending $3.8 million for land next to Smith Creek Park. The money is from the 2006 Parks and Rec bond, but some are wary about spending the money.

“There’s so many families that need work, and that’s the main thing I think that everybody needs to look at when they spend the money,” Glenn George said. “It’s keeping us employed.”

George said he’s in favor of using park bond money, as long as the spending creates jobs, like the one he’s been contracted to do at Smith Creek Park.

New Hanover County resident John Maffetore also favors green space, but wants responsible spending as well.

“I do want lands to be saved for people to get out and enjoy it, so I think it’s a good idea, yes,” Maffetore said. “Should they maybe find other places where they can tighten up and maybe not spend some money on, you know, would be a good idea.”

The 2006 parks bond gave the county, Wilmington and the beach towns $35.5 million to spend on parks and recreation. Now, the county is considering using some of the money to buy 85 acres near Smith Creek Park.

The county would buy the land from Swain and Associates, which has a contract to buy it from The Legacy Group in Wilmington, which is run by Robin Grathwol. She’s also the head of R-3, which is the company that just failed on a trash contract with the county.

“I have no knowledge of anything suspect here, but it does raise eyebrows, and we want to make sure that everything is in the open and transparent, and so we will be asking questions,” County Commissioner Rick Catlin said.

Catlin said the unused parks money could go to pay back the bond. But with the bond already approved, he says there is no benefit in not using the money for its original intent.

“Parks and green space are a quality of life enhancer,” he said.

George agrees.

“It’s a beautiful place,” he said. “I just hope people find out about it and they utilize the stuff that everybody’s improving and using the money for.”

The potential purchase would be one of the last using the parks and rec bond money.

New Hanover County Finance Director Avril Pinder sent us the following statement when we asked how much parks bond money is left to spend: “In the County project section there is $7.6M that has not been spent to date. Once the $3.8M for land at Smith Creek park is spent the balance would be $3.8M.”

Catlin said the commission could decide to buy the land as soon as its meeting Monday.

Comment on this Story

  • Carol Kramer

    I, too would like to know how much bond money is left and what the interest rate on the bond is. It might even be worth paying down the bond and refinancing at lower rates as interest rates have been declining.

    I’d also like to know what the cost will be to build out both this park and the new one in Castle Hayne. What is the projected annual up keep on each New Hanover County Park, including this new proposal.

    The parks cost much more than the cost of the land. My guess is that land prices will be going down, making any rush into a land purchase questionable. I think parks are great, but what are we getting into in terms of on-going costs?

  • Patrick Pittman

    Just more wasteful projects

    Aren’t we in a fiscal crisis?

    What New Hanover county needs is an emergency list of government services which are implemented during disaster, a bare-bones bottom line essential (emergency) services only list.
    then, all other programs for the county need to be eliminated permanently.

    The government should only provide that which is absolutely essential for safety and basic community function. The rest can be provided by private entities.
    Parks are not essential for community function.

  • Guests

    How bad would the financial crisis have to be to get them to stop spending money? Why are we spending money and anything other than vital services?

    I can’t speak for everyone, but I am pretty sure many who voted for the 2006 bond would vote differently today.

  • taxpayeriam

    That thinking has got us in the mess we are in now.Raising taxes jobs lost school funding and yes it does smell bad when R3 ending costing over a year in thanking care of the waste problem.How going to pay for the up keep of the land after it is bought the tax payer will be on the hook for more money.If the land is so valuable why has it not been developed is that because a deal was made earlier around R3 shame on you.We all are not all stupid when we see things going on the government is trying to sell land to cut the budget and you all want to spend money that can pay of the debt instead of increasing it just because it is available.No it is not wright to spend the money to benefit just part of the people when all tax payers have to pay it back.How many more parks do we need to keep up,has anyone done a study on park utilization in the county.

  • Guest duder

    In my opinion, if they are going to spend all of this money on building a cross-city running/biking trail, then why not take some of that money and make it safe – build some pedestrian bridges over the wide dangerous roads that lie in its path, or at least build one over Oleander Drive & Shipyard Blvd (which would probably use most of the $$$). The trail is a wonderful idea, but it’s hindered by these busy roads. I would love to run the whole trail upon completion but I don’t want to deal with crossing these highways, especially considering how badly people drive around here (not paying attention, texting, driving drunk). This will help a lot of fitness-minded people living in the core of Wilmington, rather than buying up a bunch of wilderness on the edge of the county. Unless this money has to be used outside of the city limits, I don’t know. I just know that many cities I have lived in previously had lots of pedestrian bridges.

  • sevenseas

    Maybe taxpayers should think twice before approving bonds for greenspace, schools, etc. because as most folk already know, some don’t, that general obligation bonds will almost always cause a tax increase.

  • Local Developer

    Are you all kidding???
    That’s amazing – Rick Catlin and NHC have found the only piece of property in our county that has increased in value since the crash!!!

    They purchased that plot in 2004 for $32,500/acre and now its $44,700/acre. Really?

    Use the money to pay down debt or hire 50 people to clean up and beautify our current parks.

  • Commonsensenotcommontoday

    The mere fact that Robin Grathwol’s name is associated with this deal means that the county commissioners should be running in terror. What’s that old adage – “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me?”

    Berger may be a whacko, but it seems that he’s the ONLY one who isn’t into the “same-old, same-old corruption up to our eyeballs.”

    …and Catlin, you may have fooled ME once, but never again.

  • SurfCityTom

    New Hanover County refuses to buy from Swain. Swain allows the contract to lapse and does not purchase property.

    New Hanover County then purchases property at a much reduced price from the original owner.

    OR, waits for the bank to foreclose and then purchases it at an even greater discount.

    Probably won’t work; reduces the opportunity for realtor profits. And so far, Mr. Barfield has not spoken on whether he or his Real Estate firm are involved in this quagmire.

    Any smart politician would walk away from this decision making process faster than Brer Rabbit ran from the Tar Baby.


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