$162,000 price tag for Romare Bearden Park's Grand Opening - | WBTV Charlotte

$162,000 price tag for Romare Bearden Park's Grand Opening


Romare Bearden Park is the gem of Mecklenburg County parks, and when it opened there was a lot of fanfare that cost a lot of money.

WBTV has learned that the county spent $162,523 for the 3-day grand opening celebration Labor Day weekend. Some county commissioners want to know why.

"We just came out of budget season and we hear about the need for more school nurses, or hear about need for schools or more dollars for this, that, and the other - and we spent that much on an opening" says Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour.

 Commissioner Ridenhour says he believes "we should celebrate the opening of the park" but he says he started "hearing about the musical events that were taking place all weekend, plus the food and alcohol and I started questioning to myself. I wonder how much money went into this grand opening celebration."

 Pat Cotham, the chair of the Board of County Commissioners, attended the grand opening. She says "that day I did say – Commissioner Fuller was with me - and I did say to him, how much is this costing us? Are we paying for this? Are taxpayers paying for this?"

Commissioner Cotham says she's in favor of celebrating the park's opening but she was "taken aback" by how extravagant it seemed.

 "I just think there's a balance that needs to be where we're sensitive to tax payers' dollars" Commissioner Cotham says. "There's a lot of people struggling who couldn't afford the bus fare to get to the Park yet they were probably helping to pay for it."

In a statement to WBTV, James Garges, the Director of Mecklenburg Park and Recreation said, "opening a park of this nature and bringing the park alive for citizens through programs offered during the opening Labor Day Weekend is important for our entire community.  When large cities like Charlotte open these types of parks programing celebration needs to be a part of it." 

WBTV stopped by Romare Bearden Park and asked some park goers if they thought the $162,523 opening weekend price tag was money well spent.

Charlotte resident Derrick Brice loves the park – "I think people need a calming, warm place to come that's family friendly" Brice says. "I don't think you can put a price on that but maybe there could have been some cuts somewhere possibly."

Another Charlotte resident, Steven Mitson, is a big fan of Romare Bearden Park.

"The architect designs, the landscaping designs to this area. I think it brings a whole lot to the city" Mitson says.

But for the grand opening costs, Mitson says "it depends what that money went to I guess. There's that who, what, when, where, why factor."

WBTV obtained a copy of the opening weekend itemized expenses. You can see it by clicking here.

Included in the $162,523: $14,361 dollars for food and alcohol for the VIP reception; $74,314 for stage and production; $33,000 for singer Jo Dee Messina.

Mitson says "I think it's an excessive amount compared to what they spent on it. Seeing costs associated with it - yeah - that's a  lot of money. They probably could have used it elsewhere."

Director Garges of Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation said "all of these funds were budgeted and approved and were included in the Park and Recreation FY13 and FY14 budget."

Commissioners Cotham and Ridenhour say the Park and Rec budget didn't have line items. They didn't know $162,00 was budgeted for the Park's opening.

"I can't say I recall this line item expense in particular being mentioned during budget season" says Commissioner Ridenhour.

County funds paid for alcohol.

While the total cost surprised Commissioners Ridenhour and Cotham, they say some specific expenses caught their eyes.

"Honestly what jumped at me first was that the county paid for alcohol. I have a fundamental problem with that" says Commissioner Ridenhour. "Not that I'm against drinking but that the county would spend money on that I think that sends a message of excess in times when so many people in the county are struggling."

"That was uncomfortable" says Commissioner Cotham, who attended the VIP reception where alcohol was served.

"I'm 100% against that. I don't think that's right. I don't think that's right" Commissioner Cotham says.

 $33,000 for a singer.

Commissioners wonder why Park and Recreation chose to pay Jo Dee Messina $33,000. She was one of several performers during the 3-day grand opening.

Both Cotham and Ridenhour say they're local artists in the area who could have taken the stage for less money.

Park and Recreation has another $23,000 budgeted for 13 additional events though the end of the year.

$9,900 for Party in the Parks Series, $2,000 for Music Lunch Box, and $10,300 for Cajun Festival.

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