City to return $75,000 Berry Park donation

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After a closed session on economic development that lasted for more than an hour, the Wilson City Council on Thursday approved a settlement agreement with the family of Paul V. Berry regarding the naming rights for Hickory Grove Park, which will be replaced in the coming years with a $35 million expansion by BB&T.

City Attorney Jim Cauley said the city reached an agreement with the estate executors that the $75,000 Berry donated for the park construction shortly after Wilson’s 150th anniversary celebration would be returned, with all councilmen agreeing to the action.

The Paul V. Berry Hickory Grove Park opened in 2008 following nearly a decade of work to acquire the land, followed by fundraising to construct the park. Funding was a significant struggle for the development, eventually garnering a $265,000 Community Development Block Grant, $79,234 in city funds, $75,000 from Paul V. Berry and the $30,000 proceeds from land on Forest Hills Road that Berry donated to the city.

About 150 commemorative pavers also were purchased for a brick path near the fountain. City Manager Grant Goings said crews will carefully extract the pavers, then the families who purchased bricks will have the opportunity to take them or allow the city to store them and incorporate them into a park that will be constructed once BB&T’s new building is complete and the towers on Nash Street are demolished.

“The terms of the donation would be naming the park in honor of him in perpetuity, but because the park isn’t going to be there, we can’t do that,” Cauley explained. “In order to settle that claim, we can repay the funds.”

Once the BB&T work is complete, the city plans to use the former site of the BB&T towers as parkland contiguous with the lawn at the Wilson County Public Library. Specifics about the park have not been announced, but BB&T officials said they estimate the new building will complete by the end of 2019 and the towers will be demolished in 2020.

No action was taken on the economic development matter that spurred the closed session at the start of the city council’s morning work session.