At $98.5 million, plans to build a regional park on Hargett Farm could be the most expensive city undertaking since the combined Carroll Creek flood control and linear park projects. Over a period of about four decades, the Carroll Creek project cost about $86 million, including the linear park and the aqueduct and levee system.
City-hired consultant G.E. Fielder & Associates of Laurel on Wednesday unveiled a master plan, including capital construction cost estimates, for the 136-acre, city-owned farm on Butterfly Lane. The proposal calls for a sports complex with multi-use fields and a stadium, a water park, an indoor swimming center, festival grounds and associated park facilities.
The plan represents the culmination of the six-month, $247,784 contract with G.E. Fielder & Associates, a planning and landscape architecture firm, to study and submit a proposal for transforming the undeveloped farmland into a regional park.
Wednesday’s presentation marked the first time that Mayor Randy McClement and the Board of Aldermen heard estimates for project construction and operating costs in a public forum. The Board of Aldermen will vote on whether to adopt the plan at a later public hearing.
Concept plan details
The master plan report breaks down the project into four main sections, each of which corresponds to a different section of the property:
- A sports complex with 11 multipurpose fields and a 4,000-seat stadium.
- A water park and 60,000-square-foot natatorium, or indoor swimming center.
- A farmstead complex of historic buildings and festival grounds.
- A maintenance yard area with a salt storage barn and maintenance building.
Plans also include a 5-kilometer trail, 20.96 acres of forest conservation area, five parking lots totaling 1,735 parking spaces and other park amenities, such as restrooms, picnic areas, playgrounds and landscaping.
The 400-plus-page document also has a detailed archaeological review, site history, economic analysis, traffic studies and illustrative renderings for each of the project components.
The $98.5 million estimate reflects construction costs for all components, except for a possible set of solar panels for power generation and relocation of the eastern end of Butterfly Lane, according to the report.
The realignment, intended to increase road capacity and ease congestion around Md. 180, is expected to cost about $2.8 million, The Frederick News-Post has reported.
The city included funds in its fiscal 2017 capital budget to hire a consultant to design the realignment and is expected to include funding in its fiscal 2018 capital budget for the project itself, according to Zack Kershner, the city’s public works director.
The construction cost estimate also includes $33.3 million in costs related to bonding and insurance, design contingency, overhead, and profit, the report stated.
The master plan offered options for a multi-phase buildout, starting with the festival grounds, which require the lowest amount of upfront funding, and ending with the sports fields. Grace Fielder, the firm’s president and founder, estimated that construction would take at least 10 years under any multi-phased approach.
Once completed, the park could generate up to $2.79 million in yearly revenue through membership, rental and admissions fees associated with project components such as the water park, natatorium, festival grounds and sports complex, the report stated. However, the $3.33 million estimated yearly operating expenses associated with maintaining the facilities would result in a net loss of $527,000 per year.
Although the report includes estimates for the city’s annual debt service on construction and maintenance costs, the aldermen emphasized that the city will not shoulder the costs.
Instead, they pointed to the need for project partners — public and private organizations that may benefit from one or all of the planned facilities — as essential to project funding.
The city was previously restricted from using private partnerships to finance park development, but that restriction was eliminated under a bond re-funding approved this year.
“The viability of the park is in having partners,” Alderman Josh Bokee said. “The burden to develop this is ... not on city taxpayers alone.”
Alderwoman Kelly Russell noted that the city still pays more than $1 million in debt service on the cost to buy the land, purchased in 2009 for $18 million.
The need for partners may determine the order in which certain project components are constructed, she said.
“We can say we want to build the festival grounds and fields last, but if an investor comes in and says, ‘We want to build all these fields,’ that’s what we’re going to do,” she said.
As for the annual operating deficit, Alderman Michael O’Connor said he was not “overly concerned,” given that the city pays to operate other public parks that take in more money than they cost to operate.
Given the costly and detailed nature of the project, he proposed creating a standing committee to guide the project, similar to the group appointed to help oversee the Carroll Creek flood control project.
“They become our citizen consultants on all aspects of the project moving forward,” he said, naming neighborhood residents and those with expertise in project management as some of the potential members of the proposed committee.
Other aldermen indicated support for his idea, although McClement has the final say on whether to create a committee.
Until then, they will continue to develop strategies on how to attract partners to help fund the project.
“I’ll remain highly skeptical until partners start showing up at the door,” Russell said.
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