The City of Hernando has allocated $275,000 for a new animal shelter with tentative plans for it to be located in Renasant Park, but city officials ran into a roadblock Tuesday when it was announced that the namesake bank which donated the park property, Renasant Bank, is hesitant about an animal shelter being located on the back side of the park.
City of Hernando Attorney Kenneth Stockton informed city aldermen Tuesday that Renasant Bank attorney Kevin Smith had contacted him this past Friday to voice reservations about the possibility that the city's new "no kill" shelter would be located in close proximity to the existing dog park.
"They called and said they wanted to know more about it," Stockton said during Tuesday's meeting.
Mayor Tom Ferguson said city officials plan to discuss the issue with Renasant Bank officials.
"It's a legal issue that we have to work out," said Ferguson, who provided a reporter with a copy of the lengthy contract with Renasant bank officials which was inked in August of 2011 during his predecessor Chip Johnson's administration.
The agreement calls for Renasant Bank to donate 39 acres of land with "naming rights herein granted to be exclusive and perpetual. Renasant Bank agrees to donate the property described above as a public park."
At issue is whether an animal shelter would fit into that description.
Ferguson said he and city officials have searched the official city clerk's minutes for any commitment to Hernando Animal Shelter advocates to locate the animal shelter at the park and he could not find any.
Ferguson said it's his understanding that the idea to locate the animal shelter at the park was launched on the social media page Facebook.
Hernando Animal Shelter Director Susan Huff and several supporters of the shelter and locating a "no kill" facility at Renasant Park said Tuesday they feel locating it at Renasant Park would be "a perfect place for the shelter."
"It's a perfect place to have an animal shelter," Huff said. "The animal shelter is perfect for that property. This is good for the community. This has been approved and approved and approved."
However, Ferguson contends the $275,000, which is being allocated out of a $4.5 million bond issue issued in 2016, is not site specific. The only thing that has been approved is the amount for the shelter, according to Ferguson.
"We just don't know yet," Ferguson said of whether Renasant Bank will allow the animal shelter in close proximity to the dog park. Some city officials expressed liability questions if the animal shelter were to be located at Renasant Park.
Renasant Park has slowly taken shape over the last few years with a skatepark, dog park and just approved pump bike track located at the park, all paid for with private funds.
City taxpayer dollars did provide the new paved road which connects U.S. 51 to the park and there are plans to use a $120,000 grant from the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to construct a walking trail at the park, which backs up to the Hernando Civic Center ballfields, and are jointly owned by the Lions Club, Saddle Club and Rotary Club on property leased to the city.
Huff said she feels the animal shelter would be a perfect fit for the park because it would be visible and not secluded away like animal shelters of old, which were mostly hidden out of view.
Huff pointed out that the City of Memphis has an animal shelter at Shelby Farms, a public park, near the Greenline bike trail.
"They have children who have summer camp activities there, read to the dogs and there is a restaurant located across the street," Huff said, adding she just doesn't think bank officials are aware of the modern, friendly concept of an integrated, no-kill shelter that adopts out animals.
However, Ferguson later remarked that Shelby Farms is a park in excess of 4,500 acres in contrast to 39 acres in Hernando.
Yet, Ferguson encouraged Animal Shelter supporters not to be discouraged because he said city officials have not yet had a chance to discuss locating the animal shelter at the park with Renasant Park officials.
"You have more board support than you've ever had," Ferguson told Huff and other animal shelter advocates. "The glass is half full instead of half empty."
Another animal shelter supporter said she left Tuesday's meeting disappointed.
"This has taken the wind out of our sails," Janet Clements said.
Local architect Doug Thornton has donated much of his time and expertise to develop renderings for the animal shelter, which he says, will be "people friendly" and make use of natural light.
The shelter could be developed in different "pod stages," to allow for expansion according to Thornton.
For the bank's part, Renasant Bank DeSoto County Division President Shawn Clayton said Wednesday that he had "no comment" on the issue.
Robert Lee Long is Community Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at email@example.com or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.