A Diamond in the Park Plan07-18-12-lakerim_000.gif

There is a real diamond in the Parks and Recreation Master Plan that has not had much discussion. That gem is the Senior Citizens’ Center listed as an addition behind the Aquatic and Therapeutic Swimming Pool in Mazarick Park.

The verbal thunder is roaring over the referendum and the tax rhetoric is deafening. And rightly so, the tax questions need to be addressed and proper concern given to the financing in this difficult economy.

But there is a time (as in the darkest moments of the Great Depression) when a vision has to be offered up — especially if it potentially knits a sense of community.

As presented, the Master Plan for Parks and Recreation does offer something for everyone — youth to seniors.

My soapbox is the senior center — and it has been my rant for more than 13 years. $500,000 in encumbered funds was set aside several years ago for the exclusive use of building a senior center. And there it sits aging, just like the population in Cumberland County.

More retirees are choosing to remain in Fayetteville, a community they have come to know, enjoy and contribute to during working careers. Many are military with a wonderful heritage to share; others are locals and the guardians of the local history and legends.

In spite of recent setbacks that challenge the quality of living in our community (i.e. the closing of the Museum of Art), the Botanical Garden, Special Operations and Cape Fear museums, our theatres, the festivals and the historic ambiance of the restaurants and boutiques on Hay St. have started to build a “destination” label for Fayetteville.

But if you take an “investment” perspective into community growth, it has to be more than attracting another DOD contractor or building another multi-family complex. High density housing, stalled traffic, fast food paradise and high local taxes are not attractions to convince many new retirees to relocate into Fayetteville and are causing other (often more affluent) residents to reconsider a move to a quieter, greener lifestyle.

The pace of our present lifestyles often give short shrift to the older residents, but step back and assess their contributions both in money and as volunteers to our charitable and cultural organizations. (It may surprise many that more than 50 percent of the national GNP is generated from volunteers). They also are the heart of the craft manufacturing in Fayetteville, turning out pottery, paintings, sculpture, quilts, jewelry — and even moonshine jelly making a collectors and tourism market that turns a few dollars in the local economy. They sing, play in bands, dance and on the stage — and that results in more coins passing palms to support struggling nonprofits and local charities. Many seniors work part-time in small businesses that cannot afford a full-time workers requiring full benefits or babysitting so children can go to work. The day of “rocking chair” senior citizens is a myth.

The question of course is “What does this have to do with the senior citizen center proposed in the Parks and Recreation Master Plan?” If the stereotype of senior citizens should be burst so should the public concept of a senior center.

Fifteen years ago I went with a Fayetteville delegation to visit the senior center in Wilmington, N.C. Certainly it had the “required” activities — exercise areas, a card room, a billiard room, classrooms with computers, craft rooms and an area just get together for a cup of coffee. But it also was a successful model for public/private investment.

The center boasts a great restaurant (private) that also serves as the community distribution point for the meals-on-wheels program (public). A large auditorium with a stage is used to produce plays written by local playwrights (private) and concerts (private/public). The main floor is used for ballroom dancing and various exhibitions. And a local entrepreneur leases space as a consignment store for the arts and crafts being made onsite.

In times of community emergencies such as hurricanes, the center serves as headquarters for emergency responders and as a shelter for Wilmington, N.C. citizens.

And if none of the above convinces you that a senior center cannot only be self-supporting but a small but mighty economic driver — residents from Oak Island, N.C., pay fees to be able to use and attend activities at the facility.

Let’s find a way to finance the Parks and Recreation Master Plan and all the wonderful ballparks, swimming pools, stadiums, skateboard parks, green space and the multiuse Senior Citizen’s Center — whether $34 annually on a $150,000 home, a small sales tax or use fees. The Center already has $500,000 in its checking account. Let’s leverage it!! We have everything to gain and a huge opportunity to lose.

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