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H. Murray Smith Centennial Park to get funding in 2025

H. Murray Smith Centennial Park will have $500,000 earmarked for it in the 2025 budget, but not before heated discussions in 2024 budget deliberations.

Debate over pickleball courts segued into a discussion over Centennial Park, with the discussion eventually leading over to the park’s future and how it is funded. Eight dedicated pickleball courts are now planned for the Libro Centre and possibly a multi-purpose hard surface court, but concerns were raised over Centennial Park.

Mayor Michael Prue said he appreciated the passion of the Amherstburg Pickleball Association (APA) and what they wanted but his concern was what is happening, or not happening, at Centennial Park. He believed the town is pitting pickleball against tennis “through our own inaction.”

A five-year capital plan showed no investment at Centennial Park until 2028, when $250,000 is proposed but through tense discussions, council asked administration to find $500,000 for 2025.

“Look at Centennial Park,” the mayor stated. “That’s where the tennis courts are going. Centennial Park – nothing this year, nothing next year, nothing in 2026, nothing in 2027 and a quarter of a million dollars in 2028. That is the real shame. The shame isn’t the pickleball courts, the shame is what is happening at Centennial Park.”

If the town was able to accommodate tennis players at Centennial Park, Prue said he would do that.

“I don’t understand the foot-dragging at Centennial Park,” he said.

Prue said there are amenities like Russell Renaud Hill there and those wanting to fundraise for a new track, but town council “are doing nothing” at the park.

“I would like us to move on that,” he said.

The town has an obligation to downtown residents and those who want to use Centennial Park, said Prue.

“We need to go back to Centennial Park because I do not accept the recommendation that there be nothing until 2028 and a pittance at that,” said Prue. “This was the premiere park of all of Amherstburg for so many years and we need to do something with it.”

Prue added he hasn’t given up on getting a swimming pool for Amherstburg and nothing has been done on that either.

Councillor Peter Courtney said there was $500,000 earmarked for a pump track at the Libro Centre and suggested using that money for Centennial Park. He originally believed that could be devoted to tennis courts at Centennial Park.

“I see way more people using a tennis court and a pickleball court than a pump track,” said Courtney.

Courtney said he wants to support pickleball courts but “a couple of councillors can’t even say H. Murray Smith Centennial Park. It’s kind of a shame, really.”

“There’s only so many things we can cram out at the Libro (Centre) without compromising other aspects,” he said, adding a Libro Centre secondary plan is needed.

Deputy Mayor Chris Gibb said he didn’t have any problem with looking at a long-term plan for Centennial Park but thought the town was waiting a decision on the track.

“If you’re saying you want to start a plan on Centennial Park, I’m ready to go,” said Gibb.

Director of parks, facilities, recreation and culture Heidi Baillargeon said there are plans for a track and are seeking direction on that. She added tennis courts would fit in regardless of how the track is oriented, but that there is a preference for a north-south orientation.

“Let’s stop playing games right here, right now,” said Councillor Diane Pouget. “We all know Centennial Park is just a disgrace. It’s an absolute disgrace. As Councillor Courtney said, some people on this council can’t even say the words ‘H. Murray Smith Centennial Park.’”

Pouget highlighted Baillargeon’s point that courts there would not impact a new track. She questioned why the town is “playing games” about making people wait on Centennial Park amenities while “we’re going to give whatever we want to pickleball. I’m just sick of it and I’m ashamed to say I’m part of this council.”Prue asked Pouget to retract the last statement, as he said by her saying she’s ashamed to be part of this council it means she is ashamed of council members and “you’re not supposed to disparage any member of council.” Pouget said she is ashamed of council’s behaviour.

“I would invite any member of council to make a motion to put something out there for Centennial Park right now. There’s nothing to be ashamed of if we make a motion,” said Gibb.

Courtney emphasized the town can proceed with amenities at Centennial Park without impacting the hill or track. His motion to divert the pump track money to hard court surfaces at H. Murray Smith Centennial Park got a response from Councillor Don McArthur, an advocate of the skate park and pump track.

McArthur called Courtney’s motion “purely cosmetic purely political and it’s meaningless,” something Courtney took offense to. He said nothing in a previous motion he made regarding pickleball courts precludes tennis courts from going in either at Centennial Park or the Libro Centre.

“Do I want to invest in Centennial Park? Yes, I do,” said McArthur. “Do I want to take away from the bike community and the kids? No, I don’t.”

McArthur added he didn’t want to “shift gears” and take money from teens and their parents, particularly without consultation.

“We’re shifting numbers on a spreadsheet and I don’t see the utility in that,” he added.

Allaire added it would be “great to have amenities in the core for children to get to.” Pouget believed the pickleball people were pushed up through a show of hands, adding the town went against surveys and open houses at other parks.

Prue believed Courtney’s original motion was to indicate Centennial Park is priority. He suggested “we can have many things” and that staff has a year to find other sources of the money other than the BMX pump track. McArthur said he would support putting money for Centennial Park in as a placeholder for 2025 but not at the expense of the BMX riders.

“We can commit to both and fund them later,” said McArthur.

Courtney agreed to remove the part of his motion where it would take the $500,000 from the BMX pump track and find Centennial Park money elsewhere.

Town council approved the compromised motion to seek money for both.

By Ron Giofu

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