Thursday, May 15, 2008

Celebration Garden stuck in limbo

Ashlee Monroe

Unknown to most Athens residents, there is a small garden with a lighted walkway and a stone gazebo behind the new Holiday Inn Express on East State Street. It hides among the hotel, a baseball diamond and a city building. During Monday's City Council meeting, architect Mike Noel, who built the garden, proposed a new agreement on who would care for the garden and maintain it. He says the original intent was for the city to mow the grass and for the Rotary Club to maintain the garden's flowerbeds with volunteer help.

The first event at the park is scheduled for this weekend, but the park remains unfinished. There is currently a large run-off flooding part of the park, the ground remains uneven and flower beds are scarce. The stone gazebo and lighted walkway are complete, though.

The beginnings of the Celebration Garden behind the Holiday Inn.

"It's being built by volunteers, and when you use volunteers you kind of have to rely on them when they are free and available," Noel told Athens MidDay. "But we started late summer probably around September of last year, and depending on the rain we should be done within the next two weeks I would think."

Noel, who is a member of the Athens Rotary Club, said Rotary wanted to use the space as a garden that could be used for weddings, class reunions and other events because it was unused by the city and it was next to the proposed dog park, which made it a nice area. He said he made the original agreement that the city would mow the grass in the park with former Arts, Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Schwartzoff.

Architect Mike Noel talks about the beginnings of the Celebration Garden and the current confusion surrounding it.

Current APR Director Rich Campitelli would not meet with Athens MidDay to explain who is responsible for what with the garden, or what kind of agreement the city was working out with Panich and Noel Architects or Athens Rotary. Campitelli did say that he has a meeting with the Arts, Parks and Recreation Advisory Board tonight at 5:30 to discuss the Celebration Garden.

City Councilwoman Nancy Bain said at Monday's meeting that she would have liked to have known about the garden earlier. The question remains among City Council members as to why no one is leasing the land from them, Noel said.

"I think they were just totally unaware of [the garden], that it existed, even though many of the previous city council members had been involved in approving the use of it as well as the past mayor and the service/safety director," Noel said.

Noel said he made his agreement with the former mayor, service/safety director and APR director, and the question about the park is only coming up because there are so many new faces in city government.

"I think that the only people who didn't know about it was city council," Noel said.

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