The Whitehall City Council discussed a potential renaming of Lions Park at the suggestion of WaterDog Outfitters owner Steven Crooks Tuesday at its work session.
Crooks suggested taking over maintenance duties for the park from the city, which now is responsible for the land again after the dissolution of the local Lions Club last fall. In return for his offer, he suggested that the park be renamed to recognize WaterDog’s contribution, while emphasizing the park would still be owned by the city and be open to the public.
According to city manager Scott Huebler in the meeting, the Lions Park, located just across Hanson St. from the new WaterDog store, acquired that name in 1986 after the club donated to the effort to make the area a park after it had previously been a city dump site.
Huebler also noted that WaterDog’s suggestion had some precedent, pointing out that the official name of the Goodrich Park splash pad is the Howmet Aerospace splash pad after the company contributed to its construction.
Because the request came up at a work session and not a formal board meeting, no action was taken on Crooks’ suggestion. The council appeared undecided on the possibility of renaming the park. Councilman Dick Connell expressed frustration at the renaming of public areas in general, using the former L.C. Walker Arena in Muskegon as an example, and Councilman Steve Sikkenga said he was concerned citizens would see a hypothetical WaterDog Park and think it was no longer open to the public.
“I wouldn’t have an issue renaming the dock for WaterDog, but it has to be made clear it’s still public,” Sikkenga said. “I think we have plans to improve that White River Trail in the next couple years. Lions Park makes it sound more public to me.”
Crooks reemphasized to the council that his suggestion was not intended to privatize the park or give the appearance of doing so.
“I fully anticipated absorbing the expense and cost of a sign,” Crooks said. “It could even be named Riverside Park, or something generic, and making it so a business can sponsor it. I’m not intending to take over the city. I love the area we’re in and want to improve it.”
Mayor Steven Salter appeared receptive to Crooks’ pitch.
“I have no problem with a name change because there’s no longer a Lion Club in this community,” Salter said. “We have a local business that is actively involved in the community and wants to improve it. I think we need to acknowledge that desire to improve the park and contribute to the community.”
Councilman Jeff Holmstrom said the issue could be considered later and suggested opening a contest in which the public offered new names to the park to see if a citizen could come up with their own idea.
The council and Crooks further discussed the issue of the dock at Lions Park needing repair. Huebler said to the best of his knowledge, no substantive work has been done to the dock since it was first constructed in 1986.
“Repairs are probably beyond where we should be going,” Huebler said. “Replacement is probably more likely in the near future.”
Crooks said he’d be happy to contribute to the dock’s repair or replacement, noting that he has employees that use the dock often.
“Obviously it would be to my benefit to have them walking on a safe structure every day,” Crooks said.