Harmon Field considers expansion

Published 4:55 pm Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Tryon officials are considering selling the Harmon Field community center building to purchase two acres and a house adjacent to the equestrian side of the park.
Tryon Town Council met Tuesday, Oct. 18 and heard from Harmon Field Parks and Recreation Supervisor George Alley regarding the possibility.
Alley said he wants to do a study on the positive and negative aspects of the expansion, and councilman Austin Chapman volunteered to help.
One issue with selling the community center building is the building was acquired through a N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) grant. The state frowns on selling property obtained through its grant funding and has specific requirements that must be met in order to convert the funding.
“(The grant agency) purposely makes the process very hard because they would prefer funds not be converted,” said Tryon Town Manager Justin Hembree.
Specifically, the state requires that money made from the sale of the building be used to purchase additional land for new recreational opportunities. In 2008 Tryon Arts and Crafts (TAC), which owns the building adjacent to the community center, offered to buy the community center building, but the town could not come up with a state approved use for the money at the time.
TAC had planned at the time to purchase the building with grant funding and lease it to Tryon Little Theater. Alley told council TAC does not seem interested in the purchase now, but there has been other interest in the building.
Another issue could be that the properties are not valued equally. The community center building was appraised a few years ago at $265,000 and the property being considered for purchase, known as the Leonard property, is valued at $182,000, Tryon officials said Tuesday.
Alley reviewed preliminary pros and cons regarding each property and obstacles the town will face with keeping the community center building or renovating the Leonard property.
Alley said the pros of owning the community center building include that youth programs use the building, that it produces rental income and that the building is used for the Blue Ridge Barbecue Festival. The cons include the building’s need for a new roof within five years, new HVAC within five years and parking lot maintenance. Another negative is that the building is “an energy hog,” Alley said.
Councilman Roy Miller asked what the estimated costs are for the repairs of the community center building.
Alley said approximately $30,000 for a new roof and $15,000 for central heat and air conditioning. He said sometimes in winter months Harmon Field will receive a $1,000 power bill, but Harmon Field receives rent year-round and there are a couple available rooms that could be rented. TAC rents one room for operations and another for storage; other rooms are rented for karate and afterschool and summer camp programs.
The advantages of buying the Leonard property include that the land is contiguous to the park and there are varying use possibilities, including a possible expansion of the equestrian facility and/or space for a recreational vehicle park. The property could also provide additional restrooms and new partnerships and it includes U.S. 176 commercial property, as well as historical value. Alley also mentioned possibilities for the approximately 2,000-square-foot house, including using it to host weddings or as a rental property.
Cons for acquiring the Leonard property include the expense to rehabilitate the house, the need for a bridge to be constructed over the creek for access, Harmon Field needing additional help (another half employee) and the state conversion process.
Alley said he wants to create a study committee and research grants with plans to submit a preliminary report to council during the December council meeting. He said one important question is what is the big picture for the town. He said he feels like the town needs to decide what it wants Harmon Field to be in 15 to 20 years.
Alley plans to give an update to town council at the Nov. 15 meeting.

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