Lease may hasten Lee Park fixes

January 07, 2009|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,liz.kay@baltsun.com

Baltimore County is working on a long-term lease agreement for city-owned Robert E. Lee Park that would accelerate the pace of necessary repairs if state funding is approved.

The footbridge that serves as the most popular entrance to the park, just north of the county line, has been closed since the summer after Baltimore County inspectors declared the bridge unsafe.

County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said Monday that the county is seeking $3 million in state money - its only bond bill request - to repair the bridge and address environmental concerns. The county would match the state money.

If approved, the lease would be modeled on a similar agreement with Anne Arundel County for city-owned Fort Smallwood Park.

"We knew they were motivated to invest in it at a higher level," said Andy Frank, a deputy mayor of Baltimore. "From the perspective of the user, it would really be no difference other than they're going to a park that is maintained at a higher level."

Details need to be completed and approved by the city's Board of Estimates as well as the Baltimore County Council, but essentially Baltimore County would assume responsibility for costs of maintenance and capital improvements, Frank said.

However, no capital improvements could begin without city approval, he said.

"We thought it could be a pretty good match for us," said Baltimore County Parks Director Robert J. Barrett.

Without such an agreement, it's not clear when the necessary repairs could be made, because the bridge closure was unexpected, Frank said.

"This was not at the top of the city's capital improvement priorities," he said.

The county has worked with the city to improve the park in the past, Barrett said. The proposed agreement is contingent on approval of the state money.

"We need to make sure if it's brought into our inventory, it's up to our standards," he said.

The first phase of improvements could include a dog park and maintenance of paths and trails, as well as the bridge replacement and the addressing of erosion problems, costing between $6 million and $7 million.

Later phases would maximize use of the water and create parking, he said; that could take five years or more.

Buying the park outright would be too expensive - $10 million or more, he said.

But if money is allocated, the first phase could be completed within 12 to 18 months, Barrett said.

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