North Belle Vernon councilman pitches closing Graham Street Park
North Belle Vernon council President Dennis Simboli has an idea how the borough can stop dumping money into repairing numerous incidents of vandalism and ease concerns about ongoing drug activity at Graham Street Park.
He told council Tuesday that at January's meeting he will put a motion on the table to close the park.
“I'm looking at ways to get the borough back on its feet,” Simboli said during his president's report. “I'm not putting it up for discussion at this time, but at next month's meeting I am going to put it up to a vote. I've put some serious thought into this.
“Graham Street Park has become a money pit for this borough. No one uses the tennis courts or the volleyball court. Kids have bent and tore down the nets on the basketball court and garbage is constantly left all over the ground.”
He also pointed to the arrival of “undesirables” as a reason that the park should be closed.
“It's been an eyesore for a good many years because of vandalism and the undesirable people that are coming in from all over the place,” Simboli said. “This riff-raff isn't from North Belle Vernon Borough. They're from McKeesport, Bethel Park ... it's becoming a drug place.
“You can see drug deals being done right under the pavilion in the broad daylight and vandals continue to do damage under the pavilion and around the park. Enough is enough and you have to draw the line.”
Simboli said he would like to see the area developed into a restaurant or small business.
“I've come up with a remedy to throw out to this council,” Simboli added. “The borough should look into selling the property to a development company as a way to maximize any potential revenue the borough can get. In such an agreement, the developer would agree to build a new children's park in the empty lot we have on Broad Avenue. It will provide small children an area to play and not be around the bad things they are subjected to at Graham Street Park. They wouldn't have to be around the riff-raff and drug deals.”
The area Simboli was referring to is in the 500 block of Broad Avenue.
“In return, the area could possibly be turned into a restaurant such as Texas Roadhouse, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, etc.” Simboli said. “It is a way to generate revenue and could provide jobs for local residents. We could make money off of this property instead of constantly spending money on it.”
After the meeting, Simboli was candid about closing the park.
“Revenue for this borough is what I've been looking at. I feel if we can get a developer in there to look at it and come up with some ideas, we can lease that property and, with the agreement with any developer, we can build a children's park on Broad Avenue,” he said. “It would be a nice site and it's in a nice area of town.
“I think it would curb a lot of the vandalism because you're not going to have all of the stuff that we have down there. It's more out in the open and visible. It could be easily observed by everyday citizens and the police. My key is that I think its time to move on. We need revenue for this town. Getting a business like the ones I mentioned in this town would help defray the costs for this borough and bring in a lot of extra money.
“I like the park, don't get me wrong, but it has cost the borough a lot of money and it has seen a lot of vandalism. We put a lot of time into it but get nothing out of it but headaches. I am not totally in favor of getting rid of the park but, if we do get rid of that park, the developer will be in agreement to build another park on Broad.”
The council president knows his decision may not be favored by everyone and he added that he has been in contact with potential developers to get an idea of what the benefits could be to the borough.
“I've talked to different people about getting out there and seeing what the market would be,” Simboli said. “One said he'd try to buy out the two houses at the back of the park. Having Interstate 70 there is huge, getting on and off right there is so easy and it's visible from the highway. I know some people out there won't agree with me, but they have to look what's going on. Do you want the drug traffic that the riff raff is bringing in the town or not?”
Council could potentially vote to close the park at its next meeting Jan. 8.
“I'm going to continue to pursue it with my council and get some ideas of what we can generate in terms of revenue from the site,” Simboli said. “It seems like every time we turn around we're replacing something down at the park.”
Parks and Recreation Chairwoman Betty Shine-Hill said Simboli approached her with the plan minutes before the meeting.
“He's always joked about just shutting the park down,” she said. “I guess now he's a lot more serious about it. He did pull me aside and told me that he didn't want me to be floored by it. I would really like to see more of a plan before we close down the park. I'd hate to take something away from the kids, that's the important thing to me. I liked the idea of building another park, but it just doesn't seem like that area is all that big. There wouldn't be any room for kids to run around. The park now gives them the space to run free. I'd like to see a definite plan before we close the park.”
In other business, council approved the 2013 budget, holding the line on taxes.
Council will hold a special meeting 6:30 p.m. Dec. 27 to approve proposed ordinance No. 551, setting the tax rate of 29 mills.
The spending plan calls for total revenues totaling $787,650 and total expenditures amounting to $783,055, leaving a surplus of $4,595.
Shine-Hill publicly acknowledged those whose donations helped make the borough's Sparkle Night a success. She made a special note of thanks to Shelby Ferguson, who supplied hot dogs and hot chocolate to those in attendance.
Jeremy Sellew is a Trib Total media staff writer. He can be reached at at 724-684-2667 or email@example.com.