Park Planning Department reveals proposed changes to Bishop Park

By Lauren McDonald

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Renovation plans on Bishop Park have been in the works for months. Credit: CCDP.

Pickle ball, a combination of badminton, tennis and ping pong, was the unexpected topic of discussion at the meeting on how to renovate Bishop Park.

And a new pickle ball court may be one of many changes soon to come to the park.

About 30 Athens citizens participated in a public input session on Wednesday night, to give feedback on the new master plan proposal for renovations to Bishop Park, one of Athens most popular community sites.

“We’re looking at the whole park,” said Kevan Williams, an Athens park planner heading the project. “And making sure that it’s meeting the community’s needs.”

Emily Carr, who comes to Bishop Park regularly to walk and to visit the Athens Farmers Market, completed a survey at the meeting, She said the new master plan seems feasible.

“I thought the changes were realistic,” Carr said. “They weren’t high in the sky, that we don’t have money for. They made some real improvements.”

Major changes proposed include parking lot renovations, an 8,000 square-foot Wellness Center, an expansion of the Gymnastics Center and new rental pavilions.

Park planners also proposed an 18,000 square-foot event pavilion and plaza, which would be the home of the Athens Farmers Market.

Carr, who has lived in Athens for 44 years, remembers visiting the park in 1968, when it was just a fair ground.

Bishop Park, located at 705 Sunset Drive, was built 40 years ago and has undergone no major renovation since the 1970s.

The growing Athens community has since then developed different needs from the park, Williams said. The use of the park and the neighborhood around it have changed significantly.

Also, many of the park’s structures are no longer up to code.

The 33-acre park is relatively small compared to others parks in the community. Trail Creek Park is nearly 100 acres, and Sandy Creek Park is almost 800 acres.

“But this is a very dense park in terms of the scale of activities,” Williams said.
“It gets almost 400,000 visits a year. So this is a big project in terms of its significance, even if it’s not big in terms of its physical footprint.”

The Athens Park Planning Department enlisted the help of the University of Georgia’s Center for Community Design and Preservation back in October 2014 to garner public input.

A team of UGA students and faculty conducted online surveys and in-park surveys. They also consulted park planning staff and the Bishop Park workers.

Jarrad Holbrook, a student who worked on the project, said the most glaring renovation needs when he first began were restructuring of the parking lot and updates to buildings.

“First and foremost, that whole parking lot was a mess. It’s set up kind of like a maze, the turns are too sharp,” Holbrook said. “We also saw that there were clearly issues with some buildings. One particular building looked like it had been built temporarily, and then temporary became 15, 20 years.”

The Park Planning Department asked community members for feedback on March 25 for the new master plan.

The Park Planning Department asked community members for feedback on March 25 for the new master plan.

The CCDP hosted a public input session last year to get initial suggestions from the community on renovations they’d like to see, and the park planners incorporated many of those suggestions into the new master plan.

“People liked that the park is easy to access, and there’s something for everybody,” Lewis said. “It allows non-traditional uses, like the Farmer’s Market. It’s more than just a sports park. So they liked that it was good for families, and people, whether they’re doing group activities or whether they’re just going solo to run or walk with the dog.”

The public also asked for an indoor aquatics facility and a dog park, but planners did not included those requests into the new plan, due to cost and space requirements.

Park planners aim to ensure that Bishop Park offers “a little bit of everything for all people.”

“If you come here at different times, you’ll see a lot of real diversity of people that use this park,” Carr said. “In Athens in a lot of places, even though we’re a very integrated town, you can live your life with only seeing people that look like you. When you come to parks like this, you see lots of different kinds of folks.”

Once Park Planning Department confirms the master plan, the focus will move to funding for the project. Williams said funds may come from a special-purpose local-option sales tax (SPLOST) or from donations.

“There’s a lot of interest right now in wellness,” Williams said. “So we’re hoping right now that through partnerships with different organizations we may be able to attract some support for parts of the park that might support those goals.”

The department hasn’t set a timeline for completion yet. The department will move forward with the plan based on the community’s feedback.

So far, the department has received over 500 survey responses, including those received at Wednesday’s session.

“The feedback’s been really good,” Williams said. “It’s always kind of exciting when you put a big idea out there, to see how people are going to take that and what things people will pick up on.”

And Williams said a new pickle ball court will be considered when they begin redrafting the master plan.

“We’ll look at ways to look at their ideas and make sure we’re not leaving anything out,” he said. “That’s sort of the point of doing this – to make sure that everybody has a chance to make sure that their voice is being heard.”

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