It is not uncommon for the 400-space parking lot at Whitehall Community Park to be nearly empty, especially on weekdays.

Whitehall Mayor Kim Maggard and parks and recreation Director Shannon Sorrell hope that will change.

"We have a plan for the future," Maggard said.

Whitehall Community Park, 402 N. Hamilton Road, is situated at the entrance to Whitehall from Columbus and John Glenn Columbus International Airport to the immediate north of the city limits.

The city's plan to revitalize the park follows the construction of a new gateway to Whitehall on North Hamilton Road, continuing development at the adjacent Airport South Commerce and Tech Park and the ongoing construction of a new headquarters for Heartland Bank near the park's entrance.

"We desire for this park to be a true community park that appeals to a large segment of our citizens," Maggard said of the 85-acre park the city received in 1990 from Rockwell International.

The former air and space conglomerate used the site as a recreational area for its employees.

According to the master plan for Whitehall Community Park completed last month, the $9.6 million project includes construction of a disc golf course, a natural amphitheater, a fishing pier, a network of walking and nature trails and a launching ramp for canoes and kayaks into Big Walnut Creek.

Many of the amenities are long-term and will be built in phases, Maggard said.

Completion of the entire plan could take up to 10 years, but work could begin next year, Maggard said.

Whitehall has applied for a $95,000 Nature Works grant through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources that would fund 50 percent of the estimated cost to construct a new walking loop and playground area on the upper area and north end of the park.

The initial project will move forward even without receipt of the grant, though the city would likely reduce the scope of the project and reapply for the grant, Maggard said.

The city should learn whether it receives the grant by the end of October.

A majority of the $9.6 million budget for the master plan -- $5.5 million -- is earmarked for renovating the community building at the park.

It will be funded with a mix of cash, the issuance of bonds and income-tax revenue from the two-story, 60,000-square- foot headquarters of Heartland Bank, currently under construction, that will be directed into a park endowment fund.

Renovations will include a new heating and cooling system, windows and other upgrades for the building, but other amenities are yet to be decided, Sorrell said.

"Our goal is to make this a thriving activity center."

The biggest change, Maggard said, will be development of the 35 acres at the lower area of the park and the addition of an access road from East Broad Street.

Although at least several years away, the access from East Broad Street would pass through a 13-acre office park the city plans in place of the Four Seasons Golf Center.

Earlier this year, the city terminated a lease with the center. The infrastructure at the site, including the 86,000-square-foot, 85-foot-tall inflatable dome, was sold at auction.

The office park will provide the city with additional revenue to fund future phases of the concept plan.

New income-tax revenue from Heartland Bank, coupled with income-tax revenue from future office development at the Four Seasons site, will support a park-improvement endowment fund expected to generate $500,000 annually for improvements in all Whitehall parks, said Zach Woodruff, Whitehall's director of development.

"Next year will begin our kickoff to the renewal and resurgence of a nature and community park for our citizens," Maggard said.

The master plan is a "guiding plan" that remains subject to changes, Sorrell said, but it has the support of the parks and recreation commission.

"We have a gem sitting here in Whitehall -- a lot of other communities would love to have this," commission Chairman John Fetters said.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo