BRADENTON -- Nearby residents and family members of former city council member Clarence Love gathered Tuesday morning to admire the improvements of Love Park and share memories of how it used to be.
The group was excited to see the park reopen after five months of construction with children in mind. Many residents expressed hopes the park would remain child friendly from now on rather than falling into its former reputation as a place for illegal activity.
Resident Gayle Jones, a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said when the park became a popular place for drug deals people stopped bringing their children. Now she looks forward to taking her grandchildren to the park.
"I'd say it's 100 percent family oriented now," Jones said.
There was a short ceremony to honor Clarence Love, the park namesake and first black elected representative in Manatee County. Members of the Central Community Redevelopment Agency, who organized the renovations, and Clarence Love himself made remarks about what the park meant to them and the community.
"This is a start -- there's more land here and we can do some more improvements," said Councilman Harold Byrd. "And at the same time, we have an element that we need to address, and we can keep this a park that Mr. Love, his family and the community can be proud of."
Tonya Brice, one of Love's many grandchildren, said she drives by the park every day and has a lot of memories from the area. She had her wedding reception there and spent a day at the park with her
grandmother, Love's wife, before she passed away.
"We have family come in, we come sit out here and hang out, we do a lot of family things here at this park," Brice said.
The park reopened with a bright new playground, new fence, more trees and shrubs, drinking fountain, new basketball court surface and new benches to replace the demolished pavilion residents said used to be a hot spot for drug deals and prostitution.
The $53,000 improvements were funded by the CCRA and a Martin Luther King Junior Make a Difference Day grant, parking impact fees and some tax increment financing.
CCRA Executive Director Tim Polk said he is proud of the renovations and thinks the playground turned out great.
"It's nice to see some love brought back to Love Park," he said.
Love said he considers the park at 11th Avenue West and Second Street West the crowning point of his political career. Providing a safe environment for children is important to him, he said.
"My wife and I had six children, though one is gone," Love said. "The last time my wife and I counted we had 60 grandchildren. We've probably got another 20 by now."