Fayetteville could extend Lewis Park lease another year

Lewis Park

An initiative to preserve Lewis Park looks to have made some progress.

Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan has asked the City Council to approve a one-year lease extension of the property, which belongs to the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

The city began leasing the land from the university for youth soccer programming in 1993, but the 25-year lease ended June 30. In anticipation of the lease termination, soccer programming was moved to Kessler Mountain Regional Park.

The university had planned to sell the property, which has an appraised value of $4.1 million, to help fund upgrades to its laboratory and associated equipment, but a group of residents rallied to save the park.

Will Dockery, one of the organizers of a group called Save Lewis, told the Flyer in May that he didn’t expect to be able to raise enough money to buy the land, but he hoped to raise enough attention to somehow help facilitate an agreement to keep the park intact.

Susan Norton, the city’s director of communications, said the mayor’s office has since worked with the university to draft a lease extension that would last through June 30, 2019. The move could give more time for all interested parties to find a potential solution.

As part of the agreement, the university requested a 60-day cancellation clause be included in the event that a purchase offer is received. If exercised, the university could initiate an early termination with written notice to the city.

Lewis Park is located just east of Asbell Elementary School. Norton said Fayetteville Public Schools officials have expressed interest in partnering with the city to find a way to keep the property available for public use.

Mayor Jordan issued the following statement in a news release on Friday:

As Mayor, I always welcome new challenges. There are always solutions – solutions that can often only be made through partnerships. That is the case with the challenge of how we might work together with Fayetteville Public Schools and the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture to potentially keep Lewis Fields in the public realm. There are many details to be explored, but what I know right now is that if City Council approves this resolution, our community will have a Lewis Fields lease extension that gives us more time to come together and find the right solution.

According to city documents, a new appraisal of the property has been requested, and Jordan plans to bring the discussion back to the council later for possible inclusion in a future bond program.

The City Council will consider the lease extension at its next regular meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 7 inside City Hall room 219.