What can $200,000 buy for an inner city park? A new basketball court, exercise equipment, a refurbished kickball/softball field, picnic tables, lights, new fencing, signage, landscaping, and more. Most importantly, perhaps, it’s the long-term programing that aims to hook the neighborhood on some healthy habits in the form of outdoor recreation, fun games and activities right around the corner.
Saturday morning, nearly 100 people gathered to celebrate the grand opening of the fully renovated Labor Street Park in Southtown with games, dancing, and exercise. The event kicks off a spring season of Fitness in the Park, a new kickball league (in addition to the existing Downtown Kickball League), and RoTenGo games that will be hosted in the park. The renovations and programming were made possible through a $200,000 grant to the National Recreation and Park Association by The Coca-Cola Company.
Councilmember Roberto Trevin?o (D1), thanked the Parks and Recreation Department and Coca-Cola.
“We know that you guys really understand the importance of parks and how they help grow our community – how they help foster good relationships, good families, good friends,” he said. “I myself made my best friend in a park.”
Just a few months ago, Labor Street Park would not have been an ideal place to enjoy a beautiful spring Saturday. The basketball court was cracked and no longer level, the ball field was covered in trash, and the kickball/softball field was filled with potholes and rocks. There were no picnic tables.
“Good morning, Labor Street Park,” said Parks and Recreation Director Xavier D. Urrutia. “This empty field was what was left over from an old (SAHA) development here and as this area has grown and we see new people moving in … we knew there was a need for a park in this neighborhood.”
On March 22 last year, members of the Downtown Kickball League, who had been playing in the park since construction started on its former field at Hemisfair, collected nearly $200 for minor renovations. Players picked up trash, filled some especially deep potholes, and did some landscaping.
The park is set amid several mixed-income apartment complexes and condos owned by SAHA on the former site of Victoria Courts, as well as many single family homes. The neighborhood itself is mixed-income. Some residents are new, while some families have lived there for generations.
The City acquired Labor Street Park in a recent land swap between SAHA last year. Click here to download the ordinance, which explains that the 1.95 acre property is a good trade for the City because it’s central location makes it accessible to more residents and will increase walkability and neighborhood connectivity.
The park was added to a long list of parks waiting for public input, review, improvements, and amenities – the slow “maintenance carousel,” as former Councilmember Diego Bernal candidly put it last year. “If (you’re) waiting for us (the City) it’s going to take a long time.”
So the community and kickball league did what it could and now Coca-Cola has intervened to help the City keep up with its parks. This kind of community and corporate investment may be the answer to more renovations for smaller parks around the city, Treviño said after the ribbon cutting ceremony.
“It’s a great example of how we can bring resources into our parks,” he said, including finding out a way to use the vacant SAHA-owned building on the northeast edge of the park. “One of the first things we could possibly do sooner than later is bring the EarnABike program to it. We think it’s a great space for it.”