Mount Vernon Memorial Field: Pol urges more track lanes, wary of rehab plans

The Memorial Field park and stadium in Mount The Memorial Field park and stadium in Mount Vernon, built in 1927, has been off-limits for more than a year, as city and county officials have fought over renovation plans that aim to restore the site to its former glory. (Feb. 2, 2013) Photo Credit: Xavier Mascarenas

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Mount Vernon City Councilwoman Deborah Reynolds is leading the charge to add more lanes to Memorial Field's running track to make it competitive, a proposal that may come at the expense of reducing the number of tennis courts at the site.

Reynold's move is the first direct challenge to Mayor Ernie Davis' plans for Memorial Field, which has languished as officials have wrangled over renovation plans. It also may have the mayor crying foul, as Davis is an avid tennis player.

Davis' proposal for the site calls for nine tennis courts, a skateboard park and six lanes on the field's track. Last month, the mayor put out requests for proposals from companies willing, among other things, to build an air-supported dome over the courts to give tennis players year-round access.

However, Reynolds argued that Davis' plan won't attract state and national running competitions.

"You can't compete with only six lanes. You need at least eight," said Reynolds, who is a track coach. "Our community wants a competitive track."

She plans to put the proposed changes up for a vote at Wednesday's City Council meeting. If council members reject the changes, she said she will try to get it on the ballot in the November elections. To do that, she would need at least 1,500 valid signatures.

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Davis didn't return a phone call seeking comment.

Several council members were skeptical of Reynolds' proposal, concerned that the move could further delay the project. Others doubt the city would attract state and national competitions, even if it added two lanes.

"I'm not against adding more lanes, but I'm concerned about the timing," said Councilman Richard Thomas. "I don't know that it's worth the time and energy without a clear picture of the economic impact of making the changes."

The city decided in 2009 to renovate the stadium site, a $12.7 million project funded mostly through a county loan, that called for building new grandstands for 4,000 spectators, concession stands, restrooms, locker rooms, sidewalks, football fields and tennis courts.

But shortly after taking office last year, Davis called a halt to the project, suggesting a more modest renovation that would cost the city's taxpayers less while preserving historic elements of the stadium and tennis courts. He has not released financial cost estimates for his scaled-down renovation plan.

The park on East Sandford Boulevard, which was once a regional venue for concerts and sporting events, has been closed to the public for more than a year as officials debate a plan to repair it. Local residents are hopeful that the once-popular site someday will be restored to its former glory.