Fort Mill Times

Council debates leasing Walter Elisha Park

The Town of Fort Mill is in negotiations for the second time in months with a Springs representative.

This time, the bargaining chip is Walter Elisha Park, the downtown "walking park" that is the icon of Fort Mill. At stake is a three-year lease that will allow Fort Mill the continued luxury of a family-friendly park that also has become known as the entry way to the town.

"The reality is that the property is owned by Springs," Town Manager David Hudspeth said last month during a Fort Mill Town Council meeting. "They can do whatever they want to do with the property. We'd like to see it remain a park."

To that end, the Town of Fort Mill and Springs are considering a lease agreement that mandates the town must upkeep the property and pay property taxes in exchange for unconditional park usage. Most recently, town leaders held the celebrated annual Springfest at the park.

The lease in part continues that trend while ensuring quality of life for residents, Hudspeth said.

"It continues the tradition of allowing our residents to use it," Hudspeth said. "We are still negotiating some of the details with the company."

Wisconsin-based Springs was created when the former Fort Mill-based soft line manufacturer of the same name sold off its window treatment segment. It is not affiliated with the Springs Global office still located downtown.

To date, no lease has been signed, he said, although the Fort Mill Town Council recently agreed to accept a three-year lease.

"I want to be able to tell Springs that council was agreeable to the (lease) draft," Hudspeth said. "We think we have one that's near the final version."

As for Springs, "Their corporate people are reviewing the draft," Hudspeth said.

The property encompasses about 12 acres, he said. Under the lease, the Town of Fort Mill will agree to maintain the playground equipment anchored at the park as well as keep up with landscaping, a projected yearly $20,000 expense. Landscaping is currently contracted out, Hudspeth said.

"The town has not decided if we will do landscaping in house or use their current contract," he said.

Several council members expressed concern about the lease. One said the path that circles the grounds is in need of repair and asked if Springs planned to make upgrades before leasing he property.

"They've done some housekeeping," Hudspeth answered.

However, the lease specifically notes how maintenance issues will be addressed should the Town agree to the lease.

"It does require that we maintain the park," Hudspeth told the council.

Councilman Tom Adams voiced his concern.

"How bad is the park, the asphalt?" he asked.

"It's cracked," Hudspeth said. "There may be opportunities to patch."

Councilman Ken Starnes echoed Hudspeth.

"It's not any different than some of our sidewalks in town," Starnes said.

Mayor Danny Funderburk offered a consideration:

"One intangible that I think we must keep in mind is that they're under no obligation to leave it as a park," he said commanding attention.

"You have to go into this with your eyes open," Starnes said. "It's one of those calculated risks. It's one worth taking.