Rankin Lake Park has long played second or third fiddle to other, more popular recreational areas in Gastonia. But with a nearly year-long, $3.2 million renovation wrapping up, city leaders hope more residents will soon pay the park a visit and realize all it has to offer.
“They’re really close to finishing,” said Gastonia recreation director Chuck Dellinger, of the construction at Rankin Lake. “The completion date was set for early July, but it will probably be the first of August before it opens.”
The park overhaul will also set the stage for City Council members to decide whether to move forward with another controversial recreation venture. The previous City Council budgeted $750,000 to connect a greenway from west Gastonia to Rankin Lake Park, and flirted with the use of eminent domain to make it happen. A bid for the construction of that 1.5-mile walking and biking trail will likely come before the current council in July, Dellinger said.
“That would be the connecting piece to link downtown to Rankin Lake Park,” he said.
A renovation of Rankin Lake Park has been on the city’s master recreation plan for years. It was set as a priority by a committee that considered the city’s future wants and needs with respect to parks and leisure activity, Dellinger said.
The question was how to pay for it. The city considered funding it as part of a $4.6 million general obligation bond package. But voters turned that idea down in May 2010.
A month after that denial, City Council members agreed on a different way to finance it. Instead of using GO bonds, which require voter approval, they used an alternate funding method known as two-thirds bonds. Because it involves assigning smaller amounts of debt, voters don’t have to sign off on it.
“It’s a park that has had its share of negative connotations,” said then-Mayor Jennie Stultz. “But the whole idea is we have an opportunity to make it a wonderful amenity for the public.”
That riled many residents who felt the city was ignoring their wishes not to renovate the park. But Dellinger reiterated the 2010 referendum was not a question of whether or not to do it, but only whether to use GO bonds.
“In hindsight, maybe our communication of that wasn’t as good as it should have been,” he said. “But the intent to do it was there all along, based on our master plan.”
Rankin Lake Park’s primary features were previously an 18-hole disc golf course and a clubhouse used for family reunions and other gatherings. It has been closed since the renovation began last summer.
The city awarded a $2.8 million construction contract to J.D. Goodrum General Contractors of Cornelius. The company has been equipping the park and its 80-acre lake with fixed piers, floating docks, electric boats for lake access, 1.8 miles of walking trails, picnic shelters, playground equipment and more parking, among other things.
When the park reopens, visitors will be able to rent paddle boats, canoes and kayaks to explore the lake. The repainted clubhouse will be outfitted with commercial appliances that will be a substantial improvement over what was there before, Dellinger said.