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Park links city’s past, future

RED BAY – For more than two years now, officials and town residents in the city of Red Bay have been working to create a place in the downtown area that would focus on the area’s rich musical history while giving the residents a place to gather and have a good time.
Heritage Park, which sits on the corner of 4th Avenue and 2nd Street, is almost completely done now that the area has been landscaped.
The park features a rock fountain, a small stage area for entertainment purposes and several benches for patrons to enjoy the beautiful area situated right in the middle of downtown.
Red Bay councilwoman Charlene Fancher, who headed up the project, said she is excited to see the park finally coming together.
Fancher said after the old building that used to be The House of Music was torn down and the property was bulldozed, the council received an outpouring of letters and phone calls from city residents who were concerned that the vacant lot would deter from Red Bay’s otherwise well-kept appearance.
“The lot had really become an eyesore – it was muddy, unkempt and collected water all through it – and we had many residents who weren’t happy about it,” Fancher said.
“The council decided it might be a good investment for the city to purchase the property and find a constructive and functional way to use the space.”
Fancher said the city council finally decided to turn the lot into a park and its main function would be for entertainment.
“We have so many musically talented people in our area and music is such a rich part of our heritage,” she said. “Since that was going to be our focus and because the property is where Fred King’s Department Store once stood, it only made sense to name the park Heritage Park.
“That department store was owned by Otis and Edna Holley and it was important to the people of Red Bay, just like music was important.
“We’re proud of our heritage and our history here in Red Bay and we wanted to celebrate that.”
Fancher said the city council originally pursued grant funding through the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) but ultimately decided to go a different route.
“We try to find the best and most economical ways to handle any projects we do as a city, so at the time, we thought pursuing a grant from ADECA would be a good idea,” she said.
“But once we started getting into the process of applying for the grant, we realized we’d have several restraints that we didn’t necessarily want to have on the property.”
Red Bay Mayor Bobby Forsythe said they discovered that if they constructed the park with grant funding, the lot would have to always remain a park.
“We didn’t want to pigeonhole ourselves into having to always keep the space a park,” Forsythe said.
“The space works great as a park right now and for the foreseeable future, but if we wanted or needed to do something else with the property many years from now, we wouldn’t be able to if we had used ADECA grant money.
“Red Bay is changing and growing and evolving everyday so we wanted that property to have the ability to do the same thing is need be.”
Fancher said once the decision was made for the city to shoulder the cost of the project, she got to work on the park’s logistics and they soon came up with a vision that included a stage area for entertainment and plenty of open space for people to bring lawn chairs and to sit back and enjoy the music.
“It just started coming together thanks to the hard work of several different people,” Fancher said.
“We were able to save the city a lot of money due to the help of the street department, the work release inmates and several citizens, including Kenn Shotts, who was instrumental in the construction of the sprinkler system and assisting with the sod.”
The covered stage, fountain and landscaping have been completed and Fancher said they are just waiting until the spring to add a few final touches and then they will hold a formal ribbon cutting ceremony.
“Our vision for this park is that it will be a place where we can have live entertainment at least once a month for our citizens and our out-of-town visitors to enjoy,” she said.
“It will be a time of good, free family fun and a time to fellowship with one another and enjoy the great things about our town. I really think it will be something special once it gets up and going.”
Fancher said it’s hard to believe the over-two-year project is coming to an end.
“To see how far we’ve come on this project is just amazing,” she said. “Two years ago we just had this big, open lot and now we have a beautiful park with so much potential. I’m excited to see what’s in store for Red Bay in the coming years because of this park.”
Fancher said singers and musicians who might be interested in being part of the monthly entertainment line-up once the park officially opens in the spring can go ahead and call City Hall and leave contact information so city officials can get back with them once they are ready to move forward.