Bennett’s plan is the centerpiece of a $1,250,000 capital campaign that has already netted about $500,000 --- the cost of the new road with its 189 parking slots. Hurdles remain, but Bennett vows, ‘This is going to happen.’ And when Larry Bennett puts his shoulder into something, it usually happens --- on time and within budget.
He has overseen $2.9 million in capital improvements to the NYO facilities, including 11 sites outside Chastain Park, since the organization’s last big fund-raising effort in 2001. He’s stretched those dollars beyond what they can buy.
For instance, this spring --- for the first time --- new sod won’t have to go down on the playing fields. Usually, 60,000 to 80,000 square feet of sod is needed at a cost of between $50,000 and $60,000. Warm, wet weather, disciplined limits on the fields’ use, fertilizer experiments and sand, rather than dirt-based sod, have made the difference.
The new road will move in and around some large trees, according to Bennett. ‘Extra effort has been made to save trees at the expense of extra parking,’ he says. ‘There will be screens (to protect against stray golf balls), safety lighting and a very nice drop-off area at the southwest corner of Blackwell with a covered waiting pavilion and a walkway up to the middle of the park.’
The NYO entrance on Wieuca will remain two-way (as will the entrance to the Field of Dreams lot), but will be widened with a large paved apron, along with improved markings and directional signs, Bennett says. ‘All of which should provide much better sight lines, better traffic flow and a much-safer environment for cars, PATH pedestrians and NYO families.’
The capital campaign, headed by Mark Crosswell and Kitty Correll, includes other amenities. Pavilions would be built between the Garr (Pony) and T-ball fields and at fastpitch softball field #4, where the structure would also include a dugout for softball and a press box for football in the fall. Wooden hillside bleachers along the bank beneath Wieuca would be replaced with concrete seating. Two additional smaller sets of rock stands will be tiered into the bank for the softball and baseball fields just beyond the outfield fence at the Jane Wilkins Field.
First, the money needs to be raised. Donors can contact NYO executive director Jane Wilkins at 404-256-1483 for details.
The new stretch of road and its 189 parking spaces will address what people have spent so much time talking about, according to Bennett. They will provide relief to a problem that vexes NYO as well as all Chastain Park users.
While Chastain Park has plenty of parking, including vast asphalt lots near the horse park and the amphitheater, it’s up to a one-mile walk to facilities like NYO’s. Some have proposed building a parking garage in the ‘gulch’ that runs between the NYO gymnasium and the golf course’s pro shop.
Such a garage would cost several million dollars. Hourly parking rates, a dramatic change from the park’s free parking, would have to be steep. While parking is, indeed, a major headache, it’s a headache focused on late-weekday afternoons and weekends during baseball and football seasons. That represents six months of the year, meaning a garage would go underutilized or empty much of the time.
In the meantime, Larry Bennett, the NYO board and the campaign fundraisers are working toward a faster, less-expensive solution. Bennett says work on the road could be done in time for next spring.
Twelve years is a long time between capital campaigns for a program such as NYO’s. Entire families have come and gone, having enjoyed facilities that rate among the best for youth sports. The last campaign, Bennett recalls, was launched on a promise of things to come. ‘Now, we’ve got things people can see,’ he says.