By Barney Blakeney
I recently met with Charleston Parks Conservancy Executive Director Harry Lesesne to talk about some exciting new changes coming to several peninsula Charleston recreational centers – Corrine Jones Park (Hester Park), Hampton Park and St. Julian Devine Community Center.
All three have undergone upgrades in the past couple of decades, but are slated for upgrades in the next year or two.
There always are different ways to look at stuff. When I first heard about the new plans I went negative – now that the peninsula’s racial demographics have changed, community resources such as parks and playgrounds will be upgraded, I thought.
As contrite as that may seem, I feel a lot of folks think the same way. Nevertheless, the changes are going to happen. Folks who feel they’ve been slighted either can sit at home and pout or go out and enjoy the parks.
According to Lessen, the plans for the three parks will provide pluses to the quality of life for those taking advantage of them.
Improvements to Corrine Jones Park will come sometime this winter and includes the development of a community garden near the existing basketball court.
Several planters will be constructed in addition to a garden building and compost area. The playground in the Wagner Terrace community is one of the city’s best kept secrets.
Formerly known as Hester Park, it has picnic tables, benches, a basketball court, a tennis court and a soccer field. A new playground was added in 2011.
I was really impressed by the proposed changes for St. Julian Devine Community Center. St. Julian Devine, elected to Charleston City Council in 1967, was the first African American elected to Charleston City Council since 1877. He lived on the peninsula’s Eastside.
Lesesne said he’s always felt the community center was underutilized. I agree. With the Cooper River Courts public housing complex a block away and surrounded by the ‘Mexico’ community, St. Julian Devine center is poised to be a vital resource since being converted from the old city incinerator back in the 1970s.
The center’s never been utilized to its fullest potential. Lesesne informed me there’s even a weight room in the building operated by the city’s recreation department that serves mostly as a meeting place and offers some afterschool programs.
More room out than in, the there-story structure has a lot of unused space. The building sits at the corner of East Bay and Cooper streets directly across from the on-ramp to the Arthur Ravenel Bridge. More and more pedestrians are passing the building everyday going onto the bridge.
Lesesne says one of the first things the Park Conservancy will do is upgrade its bathroom facilities. Exterior shrubbery will be planted along the East Bay Street.
Lesesne said the conservancy has been meeting with community members and designers on renovation plans. They’ve developed a list of potential changes that include creating a gated entrance, constructing a seasonal garden with a decorative fence for protection from traffic along East Bay Street, planting shade trees in the front and back terraces, redesigning and renovating the playground and adding two half-sized basketball courts with shaded seating.
The project’s estimated cost is about $600,000. Lesesne says they already have the money and the work should begin over the next 18 months. The city’s going to handle the inside of the building, he said.
As exciting as the prospects about St. Julian Devine center are plans for Hampton Park. Lesesne says those plans won’t be realized for a few years, but are worth the wait.
The city will allow the conservancy to renovate the concession stand, the old caretaker’s cottage which more recently housed rec department offices and the former Charleston police horse stable.
Plans to create a new multi-purpose community center where the old cottage now stands are exceptionally innovative.
After hearing the plans for the three venues, I still had that uncomfortable feeling of being neglected when more Black folks populated the peninsula, but more realistically I know that whether peninsula resident or not, those resources will bring a lot of pleasured to a lot of folks – including Black folks.
Maybe we just have to push for more diverse income affordable housing on the peninsula so more economically diverse groups can have more access to amenities like the parks and playgrounds.
But no matter how you cut it, the upgrades to the parks will offer phenomenal resources to all those who live in our community.