Lake Norman & Mooresville

Plan would double Cornelius’ park space

A newly approved Cornelius master plan calls for doubling the town’s park space and adding 13 miles of greenway over the next decade.

The town’s Parks, Arts, Recreation and Culture department now operates 11 parks and four recreational facilities, including two it manages jointly with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. The town’s Comprehensive Parks and Greenways Master Plan, approved by the Town Board on June 15, would add five neighborhood parks, three “mini” parks and three specialty parks, in addition to the greenways.

The projected cost to acquire land and develop those new parks is $47.5 million. But, town officials say, it will be a crucial investment.

“Building new and maintaining existing great parks and recreation facilities is key to our high quality of life standards in Cornelius,” Town Manager Anthony Roberts said.

As in neighboring towns, one of Cornelius’ biggest park challenges is meeting the growing demand from athletic leagues looking for places to play.

“We are turning away people who want to rent ball fields because we can’t accommodate them right now,” PARC Director Troy Fitzsimmons told commissioners when presenting the plan last month.

The field shortage comes with the town’s current estimated population topping 27,000. By 2025, that figure is expected to hit 35,000.

But athletic fields aren’t the town’s only park needs. The National Recreation and Park Association recommends a standard of 9.75 acres of municipally owned park land per 1,000 residents. The town’s current inventory puts it at 8.8 acres per 1,000 residents.

To meet that standard based on the 2025 population estimate, the town would need a total of almost 100 acres of park space. It now operates 51 acres.

With just 1 mile of completed greenway, the town already is 10 miles short of reaching NRPA’s standard of 0.4 miles per 1,000 population. “In park facility types, this is our greatest need,” Fitzsimmons said of greenways.

The town has begun design work on more than five miles of greenways in Antiquity, Caldwell Station, South Bailey Road, and the second phase of the existing 1-mile McDowell Creek Greenway.

Time is of the essence in securing land for new parks, the plan stresses.

“Available land for recreational development in the Cornelius area is very limited, and the town will need to act quickly to acquire property for parks and recreation,” it says. “Large tracts of property are difficult to assemble due to market demand.”

The town actually projects it will run out of developable land by 2025.

The 10-year plan calls for neighborhood parks in the Jetton Road Extension-Sefton Park Road area; somewhere in an area bounded by I-77, Westmoreland Road, Catawba Avenue and Magnolia Estates; adjacent to Cornelius Elementary School (in partnership with CMS); on Bailey Road, north of Hough High School; and on Mayes Road, east of N.C. 115.

The master plan also recommends three “specialty parks:”

▪ An Arts Center Urban Park in the downtown area that would include space for events, a sculpture garden, lighted walkways, splash pad and “urban recreation,” including bocce and chess.

▪ An “eco-park” that would connect the existing McDowell Creek Greenway with Robbins Park.

▪ A town-owned waterfront park that would address demand for more public access to Lake Norman. The plan anticipates partnering with a private developer on the lakefront park.

John Deem is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for John? Email him at