BRADENTON -- The neighborhood in the 11th Avenue West/Second Street West area hasn't had a lot of love for Love Park in recent years, but a $53,000 improvement project has Cupid reuniting community and park once again -- for the most part.
Not everyone is satisfied with how long it took for the Central Community Redevelopment Agency to finish the project. Complaints include the removal of a swingset and slide and an overall lack of amenities.
According to CCRA Executive Director Tim Polk, the project went as far as the budget would allow.
"There was a movement afoot last year to get some funds through Martin Luther King Jr. Make a Difference Day," said Polk. "We were able to get a grant for $8,500 out of a possible $10,000, and once we had that funding, we met with public works and put together a shopping list of what we wanted to see done."
The list included more benches, shrubs, a new basketball court surface, drinking fountain and playground equipment. The wish list grew well beyond the funding available, and Polk said he began to approach city council members about using parking impact fees to move the project forward.
With parking impact fees, some tax incremental funding dollars and the grant, Polk said the CCRA was able to put together a $53,000 budget that paid for the bulk of what the city and community wanted, as well as replace the fence around the park, which had fallen into disrepair.
Construction started Jan. 18, and was recently completed.
Push for community spirit
"We wanted to turn that park around," said Polk. "We want people to love being in Love Park again. We know how important these parks are to neighborhoods. It improves morale and definitely improves the partnership between the community and the city and shows that the city, through the CCRA, has made a commitment to spur on community spirit."
While there were some complaints over a perceived lack of commitment to the project, the majority of people in the neighborhood are happy with the improvements and the unexpected results.
When it appeared replacing the park's pavilion was going to put the project over budget, CCRA Manager Jesus Nino canvassed the neighborhood and was surprised to learn that most people did not want it replaced.
It had become a concentration point for homeless and drug activity. The thought was that by not replacing the pavilion, it would help alleviate a problem resident Lisa Williams said was keeping children from playing at the park out of fear.
"It was a daily problem," said Williams. "By taking out that pavilion it has cut down on the loitering, homeless and drug activity a great deal. It's a major change and this park has become more about the family. I see more kids using it than I ever have and, because there are more places to sit, I see more parents coming to the park with their kids."
There is always room for improvement, Williams said, and she would have liked to see the city do more with the space. But overall, she said, the changes "are for the better."
Love Park is named after the city's first black councilman, Clarence L. Love, who served on the city council from 1976-80.
As part of the MLK Make a Difference grant, the city was required to garner community cooperation. Williams said the CCRA did a good job asking the community what it wanted. Volunteers were gathered to help clean up the park, and St. Mary's Missionary Baptist Church, which is adjacent to the park, has agreed to become part of the city's adopt-a-park program and will help maintain it.
The park is open, but the city is planning a re-dedication celebration at 10 a.m. May 20 at Love Park, where refreshments will be served.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.