A controversial vote: Northport might sell community center, amid backlash

By WVUA 23 News Student Reporter Chaney Scott

Family reunions, line-dancing groups, children’s summer camps and voting polls may need to find somewhere else to go if Northport winds up selling its community center and prominent green space.

Monday night, Northport City Council unanimously voted to begin a 180-day due diligence period on the sale of Northport Community Center and some of its green space. The area for sale is on Park Street just off Lurleen Wallace Boulevard, in the area that features the tiny Northport Heritage Museum just past the bridge into Northport.

Residents say they’re incensed that they may lose their community center, its backyard playground and the historic building.

That’s why they were out in force at Monday’s council meeting, hoisting signs and speaking out during the meeting in a display Northport Mayor John Hinton said he’s never seen the likes of before.

Hinton called Monday’s display “out of the ordinary.”

“I think the big thing is that last night’s decision was not anything final about the purchase of the land,” Hinton said. “After six months, when both sides look at it, they may very well say this is not going to work.”

Northport residents asked the council to table the vote, but City Council President Jeff Hogg threatened to suspend the meeting and asked police to maintain order at City Hall.

No one from the large group of protestors was allowed to speak before the vote. Hogg said they did not sign up the week before, as is usual council meeting protocol. Most residents said they weren’t aware of the situation until the weekend before the meeting, past the deadline for signing up to speak.

Among those protesting at the meeting Monday was a 4-year-old child who held up a sign requesting the city save her park. That girl’s mother, Sandra Barnidge, said the park is one of her daughter’s favorite spots.

Families like hers said they’re devastated they could lose their playground. Barnidge said the whole reason her family bought their house was because of the the nearby green space.

“My 4-year-old in particular is very attached to this park,” she said. “It’s going to be really hard on us. When she was first learning how to walk, we came over here all the time. The first swings she ever swung on were those right over there. So I don’t know how I’m going to explain this to her, frankly. I’ve been trying to sort of say we are doing our part to save the park. My girls were holding ‘save the park’ signs.”

Even neighbors whose kids are out of the house are upset. Judy Holland started a petition that has nearly 300 signatures on it.

“Getting rid of this community center is saying to the senior citizens of Northport that we don’t care about you,” Holland said. “We don’t care that this is your community center and you enjoy fellowshipping here. If it wasn’t rented a year in advance all the time, I’d say nobody’s using it. I’d say let’s get rid of it but it is always being used.”

Holland said the building is used by people of all ages, not just older residents. It was donated to the city in 1941 and specifically designated to be a community space.

Hogg said money obtained from the sale would be used to move the historic building to a new location alongside other major city projects like the upcoming water park. He said he was unaware of the children’s summer camps currently in session at the community center.

Hinton said Northport is a community focused on recreation and families. If that’s the case, Barnidge said, then paving a green space in such a visible location is counterintuitive.

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