Officials break ground for new East End park
CHARLETSON, W.Va. - Jillian Haas, 11, and her sister, Lindsey, 9, can't wait for the new East End Park to open in about three months.
"I'll do cartwheels all over the place," a rambunctious Lindsey Haas said with a smile and a laugh.
The sisters attended Monday's groundbreaking ceremony with their father, Stephen Haas, 45. The Haas family lives right across from the site of the new park near the corner of Dixie and Nancy streets.
"I think it's great," Jillian said. "I'll have somewhere to go without my dad having to drive me somewhere."
City officials and representatives of the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority were on hand Monday for the ceremony.
The park has been in the works since 2005, said Jim Edwards, the authority's executive director.
The first phase, which will cost about $516,000, should be completed in three months, Edwards said. It will include a decorative entranceway, a pavilion-style shade structure and spots for public art.
Fencing will be placed around the park. Officials with the authority, which spearheaded the project, also hope to include a walkway around the park in the first phase, Edwards said.
However, no funding has been allocated toward that part of the project as yet.
Stephen Haas has lived on Dixie Street across from the park since 2005, he said. He is very pleased to see construction begin because it will give his two daughters a place to play.
He said the project helped clean up what he called a "tough neighborhood."
Four houses on Dixie Street across from Haas' home were demolished to make room for the park. Those structures were the site of numerous drug deals, fights and even some shootings, he said.
He was happy to see them go.
"My truck was hit with a bullet one day when it was parked outside my house," Haas said. "There was just a lot of craziness that happened here."
Haas estimated that foot traffic on the street had been reduced by about 75 percent since the houses were demolished.
"This park is definitely going to make the neighborhood much safer," he said.
Councilman Marc Weintraub, an East End Democrat, said one of the demolished houses had a "rap list as long as my arm."
"Officers came to the house one day looking for a fugitive and ended up having to shoot a dog that was specifically trained to attack police on sight," he said.
Weintraub is not concerned about safety at the park after it is opened. Nearby residents will keep an eye on the property and notify officers if they see any problems, he said.
The park will be closed at night, but lights will remain on so officers can see if anyone is on the grounds, Weintraub said.
The fact that officers will be able to see the grounds from the road also will serve to make the area safer, he said.
Before the houses along Dixie Street were demolished, anyone could hide out in the back yards, Weintraub said.
"That area back there was totally blocked from view," he said while standing on Dixie Street and pointing to the back of the park area. "There was no way you could see back there."
Weintraub has been a staunch supporter of the project. He said residents picked the location.
"The neighbors are the ones that wanted it put here," he said.
Jillian Haas is one of those neighbors. She is looking forward to the small concerts that will be held under the pavilion.
"I really like music," she said.
Weintraub said the East End, one of the densest neighborhoods in the city, was in dire need of a park.
Stephen Haas agreed. He hopes the park may help attract people from other neighborhoods and towns to the East End.
"They may come here to the park and then walk around to some of the restaurants," he said.
Not counting the second and third phases of construction, the park will represent a $1.2 million investment.
Construction costs will be about $516,000, which includes $269,000 earmarked by the authority and $200,000 in federal grant dollars allocated to the city.
The remainder of the funds -- $684,000 -- was spent to acquire property and demolish structures, Edwards said. Most came from the authority, he said.
The second phase will include construction of a parking lot on the Nancy Street side of the park. The third phase is to build a skate park and a splash ground, Edwards said.