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Rea Park remake about to get underway

Jan. 1—After 10 years of effort, the Friends of Rea Park are closing in on their goal — bringing the nearly century-old clubhouse, in sore disrepair, into the 21st century.

And while the park is still primarily a golf course, many plans are afoot to create more attractions that will lure non-golfers to its environs.

Friends of Rea Park founder Mike Harding hosted a dinner for fellow members Thursday evening at the Terre Haute Country Club to celebrate the imminent beginning of renovations on the clubhouse. The table's centerpiece was a Silver Trophy that he had found in filthy condition in the clubhouse.

"It's been in the bathtub for a while," Harding said wryly.

It was originally given to Geraldine Rea — who, with her husband William, donated the land to the city to create the park — at the clubhouse dedication ceremony in 1925. The trophy reads, in part, "No pleasure comes to us while living equal to the joy of giving."

Hannig Construction won the contract for $3.4 million, reported Terre Haute City Planner Maitri Desai.

"Hopefully, they will start the construction come spring," she said, adding that the project will last between 18 and 20 months.

Earl Elliott, former City Councilman and treasurer for Friends of Rea Park, said he is still working on raising funds for the makeover.

"We're at about $650,000 and the target [Mayor Duke Bennett] set for us is $750,000, so we've got about another $100,000 to go," he said. "I've got several asks out, so I'm hopeful we can bring it home by spring. I'm hoping this event will cause some people to reconsider."

Elliott, who himself first swung a golf club at age 7, noted that a few folks that he has called have been hesitant to donating to the cause.

"It's pretty good for me to get through to somebody on the phone right now, because they know why I'm calling," he said with a laugh. "That's not going to keep me from trying. People I'm talking to have a stake in what we're doing."

Bennett said that whatever funding the Friends of Rea Park cannot bring in will be covered by the city.

"It's coming together very well," he said. "Obviously, when the bids came back, they were a little more than what we anticipated — they all are these days — so the city will have to kick in a little more but not until 2025."

Bennett noticed the clubhouse was "looking rough" when he was still working at Hamilton Center and participated in its events at the park.

"As Mayor, I decided to do something about it," he said, adding that the new administration, overseen by Mayor Brandon Sakbun, will continue to move the project forward.

Rea Park is one of two golf courses owned by the city, the other being Hullman Links. Rea Park stands out because it has made money for the city for several years — the number of its golfers and receipts in 2023 exceeded the previous three years, each of which were a record-breaker in their own right.

The city has made improvements to both courses, though none as ambitious as the clubhouse renovation.

"Investing in those local assets is important for quality of life, and giving people a place to go and participate in a special sport like golf," Bennett said, adding that Rea Park has other attractions, as well.

Both Bennett and Joni Wise, Vigo County Health Department administrator, noted a recent $1.9 million state grant to bankroll a trail around the park that will connect it with the Riley trail's southeast corridor in Vigo County with Rea Park.

"When you look at all the recreational potential at Rea Park, the potential is phenomenal," Wise said. "A track circling the park, tennis courts, [future] pickleball courts, enhancing what's already there. There are numerous possibilities, and all of this will contribute to better quality of life and healthier citizens and move us in the right direction."

Other possible additions include a Terre Haute Health and Wellness Center (the park is near Regional Hospital), a splash pad, volleyball and basketball courts and an area to play baseball or soccer.

Dean Sanders, the architect behind the clubhouse's restoration, has worked on nearly 1,000 projects in Terre Haute since the early 1970s, including a couple of parking garages, 25 banks and 10 fire stations.

"It's kind of like being a small town doctor — you have to be familiar with a lot of different things and you can't just specialize in one thing," he said.

In Friends of Rea Park's early days, Sanders and Harding took a thorough walk through the clubhouse.

"We realized it needed renovation promptly ... and aimed to complete it by its 100-year anniversary," he said. "It was a dream to begin with and it's always nice when dreams come to fruition. You have to be patient. I'm really glad it's gotten to this point."

Elliott shares that gratitude, and anticipates being even happier in the future.

"I just sit back in the mornings with the Christmas tree on and think about what this will mean for our community and the tens of thousands of patrons who will be in that facility every year," he said. "It's going to be so awesome compared to what it is now."

David Kronke can be reached at 812-231-4232 or at david.kronke@tribstar.com.