During the Fairhope City Council’s work session March 25, Mayor Karin Wilson and the council members went back and forth on how best to get public input for what the city should do with the recently acquired K-1 Center property in downtown Fairhope.
The city will pay $4 million to the Baldwin County Board of Education for the K-1 Center property, the Nix Center and the Fairhopers’ Community Park. The city had applied for a federal grant to try to offset some of the costs for the purchase, but was not successful in getting the grant.
Wilson had announced in late March that the city would be hosting a community discussion about the future of the K-1 property on April 3 from 9 a.m. until noon at the Fairhope Civic Center.
“Citizens said they wanted public input on the K-1 Center, and the Council and I unanimously agree,” Wilson said in a press release announcing the forum. “We heard your voices. We know you want public participation and we are preparing to make that possible.”
Wilson touted the forum as a way to increase input over a traditional public forum.
“They do community engagement in a very creative way so that everyone has input,” Wilson said.
Several council members expressed concerns about the timing of that forum and asked whether future forums would also be organized.
“I’ve been approached by numerous citizens with a lot of different opinions for what we should use that property for,” Councilman Jimmy Conyers said. “It doesn’t need to be limited to just one particular use. I’d like to see us have additional town hall meetings since a lot of people can’t be here for that time.”
Councilman Jay Robinson agreed.
“I want there to be an opportunity for everyone to be heard,” Robinson said. “I think getting the opinions are very important. I hope it’s well attended and hope we just don’t stop there.”
Wilson said the forum would be the first of a series of forums to engaged the community, and said she expected similar public forums for other upcoming city issues, including the usage of RESTORE Act funds and the city’s pending comprehensive land use plan.
Council President Jack Burrell urged the city to take its time in figuring out a plan for the newly acquired property.
“The council has done our best to say we don’t want to get the cart in front of the horse,” Burrell said. “We want to hear input. We don’t want to be in a hurry - we’ve got a lot of time.”
Wilson said the planned forum simply helps gather more opinions from the citizens.
“The good that will come out of this is that everyone has input,” Wilson said. “We definitely think it can be even better.”