ComebackTown is published by David Sher to begin a discussion on a better Birmingham.
Today’s guest blogger is David Dionne. If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.
That’s why I’m willing to go out on a limb and disclose what’s going on at Red Mountain Park.
I see so much potential for Birmingham, for Red Mountain Park, and for our regional park system.
But the public, our potential donors, and government officials don’t seem to understand what we’re up against.
Birmingham may not be the green space city you think
When I arrived in Birmingham eight years ago, a Birmingham News reporter interviewed me about my goals for Red Mountain Park, the new park I was hired to develop. I recall saying that the city clearly had a love for its green spaces and outdoor venues and that the park could become a place that would positively impact multiple generations.
During the interview, my new reporter friend stated that Birmingham had the most “green space per person of any city in America and some of the largest urban parks in the United States.”
That puzzled me; I wondered what the source for the claim might be. I heard the same comments from several community leaders over the next few weeks and, occasionally, I still hear them. These claims are lofty and appealing in many ways, but they are also completely inaccurate. (https://www.tpl.org/2016-city-park-facts)
We all want great parks
As I’ve grown to know and love this community, I’ve realized that people in Birmingham want to be park champions just as much as they desire to be champions in college football.
Before I relocated to the south, I looked at the facts. In 2007, Birmingham invested solid focus and financial support through the Three Parks Initiative to create new parks.
Many, many civic minded citizens, foundations and corporations contributed substantial sums to parks for operations and infrastructure. Our elected and appointed leaders advocated for parks. This continues today.
This city knows and understands the impact a park can have on homes, neighborhoods and schools at every level. We know instinctively that parks help define our community, aid in recruiting talent and encourage our kids to live and thrive here.
Parks have positive impacts on our health, increase the value of our homes, teach local history, build and maintain strong families, improve our environment and spur economic development.
We’re prepared to cut back on operations and development
But after eight years in Birmingham, I have learned some valuable lessons. Building a park on overgrown former mining land is more expensive than even I estimated, and my estimates were far greater than those of our community.
Operating a park on this property is also a daunting challenge. Expenses for maintenance, comprehensive visitor safety, archaeology, education and all the supplies and equipment needed for park operations are real, but securing needed financial resources is a real challenge.
Red Mountain Park is thriving in our mission to be an award winning park that shapes the community that hosts us, but we are struggling financially.
Red Mountain Park is prepared to cut back on operations and development even though increased visitation indicates our community wants more of what we have to offer!
We have a solid business plan
Red Mountain Park has a plan to succeed. Our plan allows us to operate a park while building a park. Our plan includes remaining debt free; we’re introducing unique programs and projects, but we’ll rein in development of those projects until we have all the resources to complete it.
Our plan taps into utilizing the talent and energy of thousands of volunteers like Scouts, our new Junior Board, and the philanthropists and corporations that want another first class park in the city.
Our plan is to operate a park that is accessible, safe, inviting, and well maintained with a highly trained staff to serve you. Our plan innovatively engages the community, and it generates revenue while adding new revenue streams like food trucks, night adventures, expanded group activities and more.
Our plan identifies grants for goats, archaeology, school field trips and underserved populations. It’s cutting edge and it is exciting. Who could have imagined eight years ago that zip lines or goats would become synonymous with park development in Birmingham?
Time and money may be running out—but we have a solution
Our plan will take time and dollars to fully mature. But dollars are short and time is a luxury Red Mountain Park may not enjoy for long.
So we have a solution. We know that successful parks require community investment from the public and private sectors. We know our current Donors, Foundations and Corporate Partners have pledged to stay with us as we continue to grow and mature. But additional funding has got to come forward, as well.
Red Mountain Park contributes to our economy and quality of life, but we are invisible in area governmental budgets.
Many friends utilize the Park regularly, but haven’t yet taken the step toward making a personal investment.
Successful parks need everyone to step up and support the parks they call their own, so we’re asking everyone to do just that: Make a financial investment in Red Mountain Park now. And please know that, as we ask for support, we are also supporting others.
This year alone, the Park contributed more than $22,000 in in-kind gifts and services to other nonprofits to help them reach their fund raising goals. We know that we are a small part of a very generous community and we are eager to do our share to support others.
When parks thrive, so does the community. And right now, Red Mountain Park needs you to help us thrive.
A native of Maryland, David Dionne began his career in parks and trails in 1987 and spearheaded several projects along the East Coast, making him an ideal person to lead the startup of Red Mountain Park where he is Executive Director.
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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).