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Staff file photo by C.B. Schmelter / The site of the former Red Bank Middle School is located at 3715 Dayton Blvd. in Red Bank.

A group of Red Bank citizens has formed with a mission to "Save Red Bank Central Park," the name the group has given to the 12-acre former Red Bank Middle School property that now sits empty at 3715 Dayton Blvd. in the center of the city.

Lori Kyle, part of the Save Red Bank Central Park group, shared some of the group's ideas at last week's city commission meeting.

She said income could be generated by renting out the property for food or craft markets or for private events such as parties and weddings.

"We do have a layout we're planning for, hopefully, an amphitheater pavilion, a solar-powered restroom and hydration station," Kyle said.

She said the group's other ideas for use of the proposed park space include activities such as cricket and cornhole, sports, donation-based classes such as yoga and pilates, community music events and festivals with food and crafts.

Resident Anne Wheeler asked the commission who named the old middle school site "Central Park," who was behind the group and whether it is a nonprofit.

Commissioner Ruth Jeno said the group was started by citizens Jane West and Don McKenzie and that the group is raising funds through GoFundMe. The group is not for profit but is not a registered nonprofit organization, Kyle said.

Mayor Hollie Berry said the name of the property will be up for discussion in the future, in response to a question from Wheeler concerning whether a citizens' group could name the property.

"People should be fully aware that there are still other options for that," Wheeler said. "It's not decided that it is a green space, because we still have businesses that would like to get into Red Bank that that would be prime property for."

City officials are still considering other options for the parcel, for which the city issued a request for proposals from potential developers in July 2020. The three proposals received by the city included a residential development and two mixed-use developments.

City Manager Martin Granum requested at the city commission's Nov. 16 work session permission to close that request for proposals, none of which the city is obligated to select. But the city is not ruling out any of the specifics of those proposals as options, he added.

"I will assemble a team with the right skills and capabilities to research the current set of issues, engage with the community, flesh out concepts, develop options and bring to this commission a set of options that are backed up with a host of supporting information," Granum said. "My goal is to map out a process that engages the community."

He said he hopes to have a detailed roadmap of next steps and options to present to the commission by early 2022.

"It's obvious we don't have anywhere near a consensus on any of the proposals that are out there," Commissioner Pete Phillips said. "I'd like to move forward with the timeline and have a good, healthy discussion."

Jeno said she thinks that before the commission hires a firm or consultant to assist with the project, the commissioners should decide whether they want to develop the property or make it a park.

The city has been discussing how to use the property for about a decade, since the new Red Bank Middle School was constructed on former park space behind Red Bank High School. At least 3 acres of the former middle school site must be green space in order to fulfill the land swap agreement the city made with the National Park Service.

[READ MORE: Former Red Bank Middle School property could see movement in 2018]

Granum said the firm or consultant the city hires will lay the foundation for making an informed decision on which direction to take with the property.

He said he's been in discussions with officials with the Southeast Tennessee Development District, a nonprofit organization that assists local governments with services such as planning and economic development; and he also plans to put out a request for qualifications to identify the most qualified "architectural planning pre-design entity" for the city to partner with on the project.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity we have here — a $3.7 million piece of marketable land," Phillips said. "I think if they present us some good options we can come up with some type of compromise or some type of agreement we all can get behind and have a 5-0 vote on this."

Contact Emily Crisman at ecrisman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6508.

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