The basketball court is cracked and faded. Most of the open field is uneven and littered with trash. Some sections have been underused for years. Labor Street Park received some love during the spring when members of the Downtown Kickball league fixed a few potholes, picked up some trash, and planted a few shrubs for their newly-claimed field. What they lacked was serious funding to transform the park into a welcoming neighborhood amenity. $200,000 should be a good start.
Nestled between several San Antonio Housing Authority mixed-income housing developments and single family homes of the Lavaca neighborhood in Southtown, the park will receive some much-needed maintenance and renovations in the coming months due to a $200,000 grant to the National Recreation and Park Association by The Coca-Cola Company.
City Council approved the grant on Thursday, which includes $150,000 for capital improvements, including field seeding and leveling and a new basketball court, backstop (for kickball or baseball), fitness equipment, playground, and picnic area. The remaining $50,000 will be used for park programming, including Fitness in the Park, supporting the kickball league, and RoTenGo instruction. RoTenGo is a sport that hopes to gain ground in the U.S.. It’s essentially a tennis/ping-pong game that’s played on the ground that was introduced to San Antonio from Barbados. Click here for a video of a championship game.
“The goal is to engage people in different opportunities for fitness that speaks to them,” said Xavier D. Urrutia, director of the City’s Parks and Recreation Department, which will be responsible for bringing all this programming to fruition. “This will lead into lifelong activity.”
Initial work on the park will start as early as next week, Urrutia said. It’s possible that the work to the field could be done in time for the next kickball season that starts in mid-February. The entire project should be done by March.
Labor Street Park only recently became City property after a recent land-swap with SAHA. Once complete, the park was put on a long list of properties that needed City funding – essentially a waitlist on which it would take years for Parks to get on top.
“When we got the land from SAHA …we didn’t have any immediate funding secured,” Urrutia said.
The park popped up on Coca-Cola’s radar through an existing national program to find ways to engage local communities in fitness.
“The company has looked at key markets around the country to make investments to help with getting citizens active,” said Luisa Casso, Coca-Cola’s director of public affairs and communications. “San Antonio was one of those markets that was selected.”
Casso had also personally noticed the need for investment in the park when she was visiting a friend that lives nearby.
“It caught my attention because I could tell that basketball court was in desperate need for T.L.C.,” she said. “Despite that, (kids) were still trying to play on it. We fully recognize that particularly in urban neighborhoods, recreation space is limited. It made sense for an investment here.”
Coca-Cola’s Troops for Fitness Program will also be utilized at the park which will hire military veterans to teach fitness classes in parks. Classes include general fitness, bootcamp-themed workouts, Zumba, yoga, and more.
The Parks and Recreation Department will focus awareness efforts of classes and improvements in the immediate neighborhood – that is, after all, the whole point of a neighborhood park: to get neighbors outside, together.
“We have people there in the park already. That’s half the battle,” Urrutia said.
People of all ages and backgrounds currently use the park. This grant will enhance their experience and draw more neighbors outside.
“The bigger message here … is helping people to be informed about how to lead a healthy, balanced lifestyle,” Casso said.
Three years ago, Coca-Cola established a $1.5 million grant for the Troops for Fitness program, San Antonio Sports’ iplay! afterschool program, and the San Antonio Food Bank. Investment in Labor Street Park enhances the company’s local initiatives, she said, and adds to the fight against obesity.
The former SAHA headquarters building flanks the northwest corner of the park, empty and surrounded by barbed wire fence. That building is still SAHA’s property. The owners are looking for funding that may include space for community-based organizations.
“I cannot wait to get the new season rolling,” said Downtown Kickball Commissioner Sameer Paya. “There will be many changes for the better that I believe everyone will enjoy.”
Paya said that since construction began at Hemisfair Park – where the league used to play – there are very few venue options beyond Labor Street Park.
“We do not have any plans on moving to another field. I have spoken with (Parks and Recreation staff) and (they) believe the construction will not affect us using the field,” he said.