Tina Hamm, Ameet Patel

Tina Hamm, left, and Ameet Patel, right, attended their first SPEDA meeting as board members on Thursday. Board chairman Brook Ping said both would be excellent additions to SPEDA.

The two newest faces to the Somerset-Pulaski Economic Development Authority (SPEDA) board took their places at the table Thursday.

Tina Hamm, appointed by Pulaski County government, and Ameet Patel, appointed by Somerset City government, attended their first official meeting.

Hamm is the chief financial officer for Phoenix Preferred Care, which provides behavioral health services to children within Pulaski County.

Patel is the managing partner for Thoroughbred Hospital Group, which manages three hotels within Somerset: Comfort Inn by Choice Hotels, Best Western Inn and Suits and the Hampton Inn by Hilton.

Patel said before the meeting that he was excited to be serving as part of the SPEDA board. “I’m very excited to give back to the community I grew up in. It’s been a long journey, but I’m glad to finally be here,” he said. “Hopefully we’re just getting started.”

Patel has also served as the chairman of the City of Somerset’s Tourism Board with Director of Tourism Leslie Ikerd, and is on the Emerging Leaders board for the University of Kentucky’s School of Business and Economics.

“But SPEDA’s definitely up there high on the list,” he added.

Like Patel, Hamm said she was excited to get started with the board. She said she is a past president for the Somerset-Pulaski County Morning Rotary Club, “which I continue to be a member of.”

When asked what she thought she might bring to SPEDA, she responded, “Hopefully a unique perspective.”

Both were welcomed to the board by Chairman Brook Ping who said both would be great additions to the board before pointing out that he and Hamm had graduated high school together.

SPEDA President and CEO Chris Girdler also greeted the two new faces, saying that he was looking forward to working with them.

One of the first items of business the two were able to catch up on was an update on the fundraising efforts for the proposed Veterans Park.

Girdler reminded the board that he issued a “22 Push-Up Challenge” on January 22, with the goal of raising awareness to the high numbers of suicide among veterans, as well as to raise money for the park by challenging participants to donate $22 towards the park.

Girdler pointed out that current statistics show that on average 22 veterans a day take their own lives.

As for the fundraising efforts, Girdler said, “We have raised, just in the Push-Up Challenge alone, around $5,000. … We know that there’s more to come because there’s quite a few folks out there who have been challenged who have not participated just yet.”

There has yet to be word, though, on whether one of those challenged will be accepting. Last week, Somerset Police Chief William Hunt called out Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as one of the people he challenged. The video was even featured on one of WTVQ’s news segments.

Girdler said that besides that effort and the $30,000 raised with the help of Horse Soldier Bourbon, several organizations, companies and corporate entities have reached out either with donations or intent to donate.

“We have some really high-dollar donations getting ready to come through the door,” he said.

Even with that, Girdler assured the board that the park would not become “commercial,” meaning they would not be taking corporate sponsorships for it.

Engineering estimates on the park’s design should be coming in within the next three to four weeks, Girdler said, with an eye on starting construction in the summer and having an opening day in fall 2021 or spring 2022.

“I think we can do it by fall, but I definitely don’t want to get to the point where we’re rushing it and it’s not done the right way,” he said.

The park is planned to be built at the corner of North Main and Oak streets, across from Dairy Queen.

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