Lincoln Park District offers
"ideas” for the future of city parks to the City Council
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[March 12, 2020]
On Tuesday evening at the Lincoln City Council Committee of the
Whole the first order of business was to hear from Abigail O’Brien,
Executive Director of the Lincoln Park District concerning a request
for the city to deed over some of its city parks to the park
district. This is an ongoing discussion between the city and park
district that was introduced several weeks ago.
Former LPD director John Andrews had brought the request to the city
first, saying that the park district had the opportunity to apply
for park improvement grants to make the city parks better. However,
the park district could only use the money on property that it
owned. He said that the city has not done a great deal to improve
our parks and he didn’t see them doing anything in the future
because of budget constraints. The park district on the other hand,
could do a great deal to make the parks better if it won the grant
O’Brien offered a slideshow presentation of the parks the LPD is
interested in. Those parks include Ray White Park, Postville Park,
Melrose and Allison Parks.
O’Brien was careful to explain that what she was bringing to the
council were only ideas. She said that a visualization of the parks
in their current state and ideas of what could be done would help
the council understand what the park district would like to see
happen at the various parks in the city.
She added that at this point in time, there were no guarantees that
any of these ideas would be brought to fruition. Steve Parrott asked
her to explain her comment further. She said that there were many
factors in play around these projects. First of course, is that the
LPD must own the properties. Secondly, the grant application would
need to be approved and awarded. Finally she said that the LPD is
working on its Master Plan and in doing so is conducting a public
survey of the needs and wants of the community. She said that the
outcomes of that survey will help the LPD focus on the future and
prioritize future improvement projects.
O’Brien started her presentation with Ray White Park. She noted that
currently the park does have a pavilion as well as playground
equipment and a basketball hoop. She noted that the basketball hoop
is a hoop only, no court to play on.
She said there is room at the park for a full size basketball court
and that would benefit the community in that area. She said also on
the wish list for Ray White would be more park benches and
beautification of the park.
O’Brien added that the basketball court and beautification would be
the two main priorities at Ray White, but playground equipment could
be upgraded as well.
At Melrose Park, she showed that there was plenty of room there for
a possible splash pad play area.
Moving on to Postville Park, O’Brien noted that the playground area
does have ramp access for wheelchairs. It needs wheelchair
accessible playground equipment though. She said this park would be
a good place to put an ADA accessible playground for the community.
Allison Park, O’Brien said, is quite large with plenty of room for
pickleball courts. She said that pickleball is quite popular at the
LPD Recreational Center and the center does have indoor courts, but
there are none out in the community.
In all the parks she said that there was a need for new signage, new
pathways, benches, park rules signage and beautification.
There were other ideas for the parks that could be implemented as
well, including a lot for Sand Volleyball, amphitheaters, dog park
areas and Ninja Warrior Courses, a popular activity for teens. None
of these ideas have been assigned to any specific park.
During the discussion time with the council, City Treasurer Chuck
Conzo asked about the current condition of Memorial Park. Memorial
Park is under the LPD jurisdiction and is located on the edge of
town near the Elks Golf Course.
Conzo said that the park is in “obvious disrepair.” He wondered if
the LPD was doing anything about the issues at the park. O’Brien
said the LPD is currently focusing on nature at Memorial Park and is
working to restore pollinator growth.
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Tracy Welch asked if O’Brien has talked to her board about the concerns the city
has voiced in the past. She affirmed that she had.
The first concern had been what if the city gave the parks to the district and
the district did nothing with them? O’Brien said that the board was okay with
including a failsafe in the agreement wherein if the LPD did not provide
improvements to the parks within 5 years, they would default on the ownership
The sticky point on that issue would be the city’s definition of “improvements.”
She said that her board would want the city to put into writing what it
considered to be adequate improvements to the parks to be in compliance with the
The next issue was that of raising the property tax levy to maintain the parks.
O’Brien noted that she had spoken with Parrott about this because there was a
question in the survey about increasing property tax. She said the LPD had hired
a third party to conduct the survey and the third party had included the tax
She remained firm in her previous comments that the LPD had no plans to increase
its tax levy based on the acquisition of the city parks.
Another concern of the city is that the LPD might decide to sell the properties.
The city wants the properties to revert back to city ownership if the park
district decides not to maintain ownership. O’Brien said that if was extremely
difficult for any park district to sell property and not something the LPD was
looking to do. She said selling of the property would be a multi-step process
that would even include a voting referendum asking the publics permission.
Ron Keller noted that there were several good ideas presented, but he wondered
how the park district would prioritize the projects. O’Brien said that was a
good question and that the district would probably not be able to do everything
at once. She said prioritizing the projects would be based on the outcomes of
the Master Plan and survey.
The LPD would also have to consider the money awarded by the grants. She said
the LPD will be required to add matching funds to the grants and until they know
if they are awarded and how much, they really can’t say for sure how much work
will be completed in the near future.
Keller asked if the park district was preparing for the matching funds. O’Brien
said it is and that the Master Plan is going to include set aside funds in the
annual budget for grant matches.
Sam Downs noted that there is a lot of weight being put on the outcome of the
survey. He said though that the public has been asking for ADA playgrounds for a
O’Brien said yes it has. She said the question is on the survey and that the
input of the community on that question and others does matter to the board and
will impact future plans.
City Street Superintendent Walt Landers asked if the park district had ADA rules
it had to comply with. For example, do they have to provide ADA access to any
park they improve? This is common in the street department. If a sidewalk is to
be replaced, the city is required by law to make that sidewalk ADA accessible.
O’Brien said that the LPD must include ADA access on new projects, but she is
unaware that they must do so when upgrading existing parks. She added that she
would certainly look into that question and make sure everyone knows what is
Conzo noted that there are historical aspects at Postville Park, the polling
place cabin as well as the marker for the old civil war soldier statue remains
that are buried at the park. He wondered if the park district would maintain
those historical landmarks. O’Brien said it certainly would. The LPD respects
the history in the park and will not do anything to take away from that.
Kevin Bateman noted that Postville Park could be a challenge all by itself
because no one is certain who owns that park. The park was created when the city
of Postville was in existence. Because the city of Lincoln absorbed Postville in
the 1800s, tracing the ownership of the park has been nearly impossible.
City Attorney John Hoblit said he was working on that issue and it is presenting
itself as quite a challenge. He added that in addition to that particular
challenge, he must research all the parks and find out how the city acquired
them and if there were ownership restrictions placed on the properties by the
donor or seller of the property.
Those are questions that must be answered before the city makes any commitment
to the park district.
O’Brien said in regard to the timeline, her goal was to maintain open,
transparent communication with the city and to keep the project moving forward
with the hopes of being able to do something that will make the parks better and
improve quality of life for citizens.
The city included no action items regarding the parks in the next voting agenda.
There is still a great deal of work and research to be done before the aldermen
can make a well informed decision.
It is expected that this topic will continue to be discussed at council
committee of the whole meetings in the future.