Parks and trek: Svetz leaves an overhauled Charlottesville
After overseeing five years and a handful of hefty overhauls, Charlottesville Director of Parks and Recreation Mike Svetz has stepped down from what has lately become a publicly prominent, and at times controversial, post. The man behind makeovers at McGuffey, Pen–- and perhaps most notoriously, McIntire–- concluded his tenure as Director on Thursday, January 22, and headed out west to take a Parks and Rec Post in the small town of Goodyear, Arizona.
"The decision was kind of a leap of faith," says Svetz. "But at the end of the day, it's an opportunity for me to meld a couple of passions."
Svetz, a Cleveland native, came to Charlottesville five years ago after spending nearly fifteen years building up a hefty parks and rec resume. Bouncing around Ohio, he headed up several high-budget departments in the towns of Brunswick and Strongville. As parks director in Charlottesville, he continued to shoulder the requests of City Council by proposing and pushing through redesigns that did not always garner widespread popular support.
The post-modern remodeling of McGuffey Park, for example, unleashed opposition from community members who didn't see the point in putting over a half million dollars into a tiny park which already had fans who liked it as it was. Supporters of the effort, however, praised Svetz for pushing through such an "ambitious design."
There was also indignation from neighbors over an allegedly over-broad lighting of Pen Park's tennis courts. Svetz insisted throughout that ordeal that the decision was made by his predecessor, while he merely oversaw the installation of the lights.
However, the Parks and Rec department again roused the wrath of park users when the McIntire Park master plan was announced in May 2008–- a plan that included the construction of a YMCA facility at the expense of the park's two historic softball fields. After months of public hearings in both the city and county, hundreds of petition signatures from McIntire Park users, and a Save McIntire website and campaign, Svetz conceded to taking a second look at the proposed plan–- a task now left to his successor.
As the first ever Director of Parks and Recreation for Goodyear, a town to the west of Phoenix, Svetz's main priority will be in the maintenance and operation of the Cleveland Indians spring training facility and stadium–- a task that attracted the baseball fan in Svetz.
"At the age of five, I would fall asleep listening to the Indians play on a transistor radio under my pillow," says Svetz. "Baseball is near and dear to my heart."
So near and dear that Svetz says the first rule he went by during his time in Charlottesville was to separate his interests from his job–- including the issues with McIntire. Despite his passion for bats and pop flies, Svetz managed to distance his enthusiasm for the sport in favor of bringing to the community the facilities requested in the 2005 needs assessment done by the city.
Hoping for a "win-win" situation in McIntire, Svetz will leave to his replacement a lot of loose ends to tie up. 2009 will see the conclusion of the construction of Meade Park's aquatic facility, groundbreaking on the Smith Aquatic center at Buford Middle School, and a redesign of McIntire.
"I love Charlottesville," says Svetz. "I will take away nothing but positives."