City officials broke ground Friday on a $2.6 million improvement project for Martin Luther King Park that will add lighting, connect the Eastside park with an adjacent sports complex and add monuments to emphasize the park’s historical significance.
The park will get new lighting to increase safety, and two entryway monuments honoring Martin Luther King Jr. will provide a clearer entry to the park. An elevated bridge connecting the park to the Wheatley Heights Sports Complex will accommodate two-way traffic and widen and raise the low-water crossing over Salado Creek. A new entrance into the park will separate car traffic from the Salado Creek Greenway Trail for bikes and pedestrians.
“When it rains, it’s not passable, so now it will be passable and safe for pedestrians and cars,” Frisbie said. “In addition, the bridge will continue the crossing further up to Houston Street, opening up the park to the North.”
The budget for the project, which is expected to be completed by year’s end, comes from the City’s 2012-2017 Bond Program.
“An additional $6.1 million – $3.1 million from parks and $3 million from facilities – is proposed in the 2017 bond to continue investment at the park,” Mike Frisbie, director of the City’s Transportation and Capital Improvements department, told the Rivard Report.
The project, managed by Frisbie’s department on behalf of the city Parks and Recreation Department, was designed by Halff Associates Inc. and will be built by J3 Company.
Due to periodic flooding at the existing low-water crossing, connecting the park to the sports complex has proved difficult. District 2 Councilman Alan Warrick said the improvements will allow larger events such as festivals to be staged at the park because people will not worry about having to park on the street.
“The bridge is really a transition point,” District 2 Councilman Alan Warrick said. “It connects the Wheatley Heights Sports Complex, so you can have larger events now because you have 1,000 parking spaces on the other side and you only have about 100 on this side [of the park]. And then you can also have larger events at the Wheatley Heights Sports Complex and use these in concert with each other, as opposed to separate entities, which it is right now.”
For many in the neighborhood, the park holds special historical significance, and the improvements gives them hope for the future revitalization of the Eastside.
“When I was a kid, all this was called white mountains – it was just big dirt mountains and rock,” said Greg Jorden, a lifelong resident of the Eastside. “They carved it out, then came the change of Nebraska Street to Martin Luther King Drive, and Rev. R.A. Callies started the Martin Luther King March.”
Jorden said that he thinks people in the area do not utilize MLK park as much as they could because of a history of safety issues, but he would like to see that change.
“This is a plan for the future, [and these] are not the last efforts to reinvigorate the park,” Warrick said. “There will be budget adjustments … and we want to understand who is not using the park and why they are not using it.”
“This park is already a vital part of this community, and we are excited to see these improvements coming to fruition,” Parks and Recreation Assistant Director Nancy Ramos said. “Aside from large-scale improvements, we will continue to focus on the daily care and upkeep of the park to make sure it’s looking great and ready to use. We are also going to do a cleanup of the creek way system on Feb. 18th.”
Warrick told the Rivard Report that he will inform the community about the MLK park improvements during the Martin Luther King Jr. March at Pittman-Sullivan Park on Monday, where he will also gather citizen input on future improvements for the park.
“This park has a number of culturally significant events, but I think it’s still trying to find its way,” he said. “We have opportunities to really engage and talk to as many folks as possible. We will be capturing information during the Martin Luther King Jr. March and let [people] know we are making these improvements and that we want to hear their voices.”