It’s been described as a town square for residents of East Cobb, playing host to everything from holiday tree lightings to “Sunday Funday” events in the spring.
And if voters give the OK in November, that downtown could get a whole lot bigger with heavily-used East Cobb Park on Roswell Road essentially tripling its current footprint to about 75 acres.
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At stake is a proposed six-year extension of the one-cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) that would fund improvements in a number of different areas, including just over $ 52 million for parks and related projects. Several million of that would go toward expanding and improving East Cobb Park-a needed expenditure, indicated park and recreation department director Jimmy Gisi.
Said Gisi, “I have never been there and not seen people using it, and I’ve been there a lot of times.“ He said it’s one of the top two or three most-visited parks in the system. And Lee O’Neal, president of the nonprofit Friends for the East Cobb Park echoed that in saying “you can drive by any weekend and see how popular it is.”
Gisi noted that the non-profit group played a crucial role in that it predated the initial development of the property. The county’s website says the group began fundraisinig in 1998 and construction of the original 13-acre facility (the current developed footprint is about 20 acres) started in 2002. The Friends paid for one of the original tracts of land, said Gisi, with the stipulation that the county develop it. Gisi said that’s an unusual commitment for such a group. He said they typically start operating only after development of a facility.
Plans to further expand the park were delayed by the Great Recession but the county got back on track in 2018 by buying a nearby 29.71 acre tract with money left over from a 2008 bond program.
Now officials say they want to purchase a remaining adjoining 24.37 acre tract for an anticipated roughly $8 million. Also included in the SPLOST proposal is $150,000 for a shade structure for the playground and $60,000 for walking trail improvements. Recently, said Gisi, the roof of the park’s stage, which had fallen into disrepair, was replaced. Some replacement of fencing has also been done.
The Friends group plans to step up fundraising and campaign for the bond issue-which will be a challenge, said their president Lee O’ Neal
“Back when we started the park didn’t exist and it was pretty clear-cut as far as mesaaging. Today people see the park and almost take it for granted so fundraising is a different challenge than it was 20 years ago. So we’re wrestling with the message of how important it is to raise funds for the non-profit association to utilize that additional land.”
O’Neal said he anticipates that the Friends group will have to kick in a sum to help complete the purchase of the land that’s part of the November SPLOST proposal-how much is unclear. He explained that the group contributed a little more than $100,000 to help pay the freight for the 2018 purchase
Gisi said that the 2018 land deal was made with the understanding that it remain undeveloped as long as the current property owner lives there. He said that if the voters give a thumbs-up in November, the county will have the right of first refusal on the latest tract. With the purchase completed, a master plan would be drawn up for both parcels to be guided by community input. The current developed facility includes walking trails, a concert stage and pavilion and playground facilities.
It’s a unique public-private partnership that has lasted for 20 years, “ said O Neal of the relationship between county government and the non-profit.
“We want to continue to improve the park and bring the community to the park.”