Four years ago, Tulsans woke up to the struggles of the 61st Street and Riverside Drive neighborhood after four women were murdered inside the Fairmont Terrace apartment complex.
Since then, police, business owners, community leaders and neighborhood residents have come together to work on ways to reduce crime, spark economic development and improve the overall quality of life in the area.
The City Council even created a task force to address those issues, and more.
At one point, Councilor Jeannie Cue pushed for a piece of E. Fred Johnson Park, 6002 S. Riverside Dr., to be used to construct a social services center for the neighborhood. And the city’s Parks and Recreation Department entertained an offer to convert the park into a privately funded multisports complex.
Neither concept ever took off. Now the Parks and Recreation Department is back with another, more modest idea: using two acres of the park to build a new recreation area.
Out would go the baseball fields, part of the parking lot, the sports courts, the splash pad, the playground and the restroom. In would come lighted, multi-use sports courts; two 25-foot-long shelters; two playgrounds, one for toddlers and one for children 5-12; a water playground; a bicycle pump track; trees; and a nearly mile-long walking trail.
“If we don’t do anything, we’re not going to have anything, and this has been going on long enough,” Parks and Recreation Director Lucy Dolman said Tuesday.
The truth is the Parks Department can’t do anything, either. The department’s landscape architect, Jack Bubenik, presented the concept to the Parks and Recreation Board on Tuesday, and members endorsed it. But that won’t get the thing built. And the Parks Department doesn’t have the money to construct it.
So Dolman is hoping someone who does will step up and offer to help. The estimated price of the project is $2.5 million.
“My hope, I guess the best scenario, is that there would be someone interested in trying to make this happen and do a public/private partnership,” she said.
At a minimum, the Parks and Recreation Department plans to add the project to its capital improvements project list. It’s a wishlist of sorts. Every department keeps one with the hope that a favored project or two will make it into the city’s next capital improvements package.
But those packages only come along every five years or so, and Parks and Recreation’s list is already $171 million deep. Chances are that funding for the Johnson Park project, if it ever came through, would not be available for another five to 10 years.
“But we’re hoping that with something like this we’d get enough excitement because of where it’s at that we can have someone step up and fund this,” Bubenik said.
Dolman acknowledged that the multisports complex, which would have included a lacrosse field, never caught the public’s imagination. The latest proposal is a response to what the Parks Department believes people want.
“This is the design the Parks and Recreation Department feels the potential of Johnson Park is,” Dolman said. “This fits all the things people most like to see.”
Cue said Tuesday that she “loves the plan.”
But this is far from a done deal. Funding issues aside, Dolman said, she still needs to hear more from the public. Her next step is to meet with residents in the neighborhood to get their ideas and feedback.
In the meantime, she’s all ears if anyone has a little money he or she would like to put to good use.
Just email her at firstname.lastname@example.org