CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Kanawha County Commission approved Tuesday to move forward with reconfiguring Shawnee Park into a multi-sports complex
The three-member body voted unanimously for the plan, which would change the 127-acre area in Dunbar into a facility to host local and regional youth sports tournaments.
The plan currently includes four baseball fields, space to host football and soccer tournaments, six artificial turf soccer fields and renovations to existing park structures. The project would also involve the removal of the park’s golf course.
The redesign is estimated to cost $15.2 million, which would be paid for through bonds and grants. An economic feasibility study regarding the economic impact of the park is expected to be released within 60 days.
Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango, who has pushed the project since joining the commission in February, said the project could provide economic benefits for the Kanawha Valley based on similar projects throughout the country.
“It’s going to encompass everything from baseball to softball, football, soccer,” he said. “Then we’re rehabbing the tennis courts and the basketball courts.”
The vote comes after two public hearings in April and May to address some local concerns. Changes to the park’s possible new layout were made as a result of those meetings, including reducing park lot sizes and making grass fields suitable for football games.
During a hearing prior to the vote Tuesday evening, multiple residents spoke out against the plan, both during a public hearing and the commission meeting.
Most of the speakers at the latter gathering were citizens of Institute, an unincorporated community near to the park’s location.
The speakers cited concerns of the possible problems created by the park, as well as the lack of projects in Institute prior to the announcement of the park.
Kathy Ferguson, an Institute resident, said the redevelopment will not benefit the Institute community as much as it would Kanawha County as a whole. During the meeting, she introduced the commission to five African-American males who wanted to see more space for football fields.
Ferguson also said the park’s basketball courts are in need of repairs, with hoops missing nets and deteriorating pavement.
“In my estimation, (the Kanawha County Commission) don’t want black people to come down there and play and utilize the facility,” Ferguson said. “This underscores it, even more, when you are eliminating what you do have and not even including football.”
Ferguson added she has concerns of how sports tournaments could affect traffic on the two-lane road in front of the park.
Salango said he would like to add additional facilities at the park after it is redeveloped, including a five-court indoor basketball gym.
“I really want that to happen,” Salango said.
Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said a traffic study was “not necessary,” but it would an issue they would look at as the project continues.
Golfers have also advocated against changing the park. They said the park’s golf course has a flat landscape and is cheaper compared to other area courses.
The commission voted in favor of providing $100,000 for work at Big Bend Golf Course in Tornado, adding they expect traffic at the location to increase because of the multi-sports complex.
Carper also said Dow Chemical has agreed to pay for gas, water and soil testing of Shawnee Park. The announcement comes after West Virginia State University, located next to the facility, said on April 26 it would sue the company for contaminated groundwater under the campus.
The commission said it would like to have the park ready by 2019 to host tournaments.