Breathing life into a stalled project to redevelop Memorial Field and the surrounding park, Mount Vernon is soliciting bids from private companies to build a tennis dome in the park, which has been closed since Mayor Ernie Davis put the brakes on renovation plans.
The city has put out a request for proposals from companies willing to lease the portion of the property that now holds six outdoor tennis courts. The terms of the 10-year lease would include construction of an air-supported dome.
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Under the proposal, the developer would be authorized to run a membership-based tennis program; but would also be required to provide free court time to the public, through the city's parks and recreation department.
The developer would be responsible for paying for electricity, water and other utilities at the complex and providing regular maintenance of the facilities. They would also be responsible for marketing and hiring staff and managers.
"The city cannot afford to put up the bubble and run it," said City Council president Yuhanna Edwards. "So we're looking for an outside entity to operate it. We'll own the land and they'll own the bubble and run the facility."
The city ran a similar tennis program on the site years ago, in a facility that included a dome similar to the one proposed, Edwards said. The complex was dismantled in preparation for the renovation of Memorial Field.
The park on East Sandford Boulevard has been off limits to the public for more than a year, as city and Westchester County officials have wrangled over renovation plans that aim to restore the once-popular site to its former glory. It was built in 1927.
Financing for a renovation of the historic field was earmarked in 2009, when the Westchester Board of County Legislators voted to set aside $9.7 million for the project through its Legacy Program. The program provides funding for recreational facilities for county residents.
The city decided to renovate the stadium site with a $12.7 million program that called for construction of new grandstands for 4,000 spectators, concession stands, restrooms, locker rooms, sidewalks, football fields and tennis courts.
But shortly after taking office in 2011, Mayor Davis called a halt to the project, suggesting a more modest renovation that he argued would cost the city's taxpayers less while preserving historic elements of the stadium and tennis courts.
In the mid-1990s, the county weighed a $6 million proposal to buy the property and renovate it as a baseball field and outdoor concert venue, but that plan was abandoned amid protests from Mount Vernon residents over access to the field.
To date, the city has spent about $1.5 million of the county funds on construction costs for the original plan.
Edwards credits Davis, an architect, with saving the city more than $1 million by scrapping the original project.
"A lot of things are going on in his personal life," Edwards said, alluding to an ongoing federal investigation of his finances. "But he deserves credit for saving the city money and helping reinvigorate this project."