Persistence paid off for the city of Bryant, and the Charles and Norma Bishop Park is the result.
The 106-acre, $21 million park was opened last year and includes a community center with meeting space, baseball and softball fields, a gymnasium, a swimming pool, a fitness center, a kids’ play area, a pond stocked with fish … you name it. If you’re in Bryant and need a recreational outlet, Bishop Park has you covered. It even hosts 5K runs and the city’s annual FallFest.
City leaders’ persistence in making the state-of-the-art park and community center a reality earned Bryant honorable mention designation as a 2011 Arkansas Business City of Distinction in the Quality of Life category.
But it almost wasn’t to be. A penny sales tax measure passed in 2006 funded the park, but not before two previous attempts tied to other projects failed. The first attempt to fund the park and community center was tied to a proposal to build a new police and fire complex among other things. It would have purchased property from Bryant’s First Southern Baptist Church and converted it into a community center and park.
Rae Ann Fields, executive director of the Bryant Area Chamber of Commerce, said the effort represented a complicated effort that “died a death of misunderstanding by the public.” The second attempt was tied to an advertising and promotions tax that was opposed by hotel and business owners in the city over how to structure an AP commission.
For Bryant, however, the third time was the charm. Park supporters refused to give up, and initiated a third attempt through “People for Parks,” a group of nonprofit community organizations including the Bryant Boys and Girls Club, the Bryant Athletic Association, the Bryant Soccer Club, the Senior Adult Center, the Barracudas swim team, the Bryant chamber and Bryant public schools. It proved to be a powerful coalition, and one that succeeded in getting the measure passed that funded the construction of Bishop Park off Boone Road. The tax will sunset after bonds are paid off with just an eighth of a cent remaining to cover park maintenance and operations.
“The park has been nonstop with activities ever since,” Fields said.
Fields credited the community coalition with making the park and center a reality. “Together, the groups rallied the voters,” she said.
In addition to numerous community retreats, lunches and meetings, Bishop Park and the community center have hosted the following since opening last year: Five baseball tournaments, five softball tournaments, 10 basketball tournaments, two festivals, a triathlon, training seminars, numerous swim meets, four major banquets, public hearings, and state commission meetings.