Parks & Recreation Commission finds jewel in Hunting Park

Wednesday night, the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Commission shined a spotlight on Hunting Park, an 87-acre oasis in North Philadelphia. Recently singled out by the City Parks Alliance, a national nonprofit, for its remarkable transformation, the park is in the midst of a multi-year, $20 million restoration.

As Kathryn Ott Lovell, executive director of the Fairmount Park Conservancy, outlined at the start of the meeting, much of the heavy lifting has already been done. That was clearly evident on a sparkling night in which the park was packed with frolicking small children and picnicking parents.

So far, Ott Lovell said, two playgrounds have been built, a new baseball diamond was dedicated last month, an 11,000-square-foot community garden now offers some 60 plots, and a farmers’ market is entering its second season.

Additionally, she said, all new lighting has been installed along the park’s perimeter, and dead or dying trees have been removed and replaced with new ones. Coming later this year: a freshening of the rec center, in which last night’s meeting was held; a state-of-the-art football field, and revamped tennis courts.

Continuing the celebration, the Commission presented two ParC Star Awards this time, both to Hunting Park volunteers. The first went to Michael Wilcox, cited for his work with the park’s community garden; the second was awarded to Leroy Fisher, president of Hunting Park United. In presenting the citations, Commissioners Carol Rice and Jeffrey Hackett both reminisced about growing up in the area.

Next up, Deputy Mayor Michael DiBerardinis presented the department’s report. Following up on neighbor concerns voiced during March’s Commission meeting in Southwest Philadelphia, he said that his department had worked with the Philadelphia Water Department to fix a broken water main, and that Councilperson Jannie Blackwell had secured funding to install a wooden floor at the Christy Recreation Center and to replace its air conditioning system.

Looking ahead to this summer, DiBerardinis spoke briefly on several park programs, including TriYouthalon, which addresses childhood obesity, and an artist-in-residence program organized in partnership with the Mural Arts Program.

Committee reports followed, kicked off by a presentation on a new garage and related streetscape improvements from Nina Bisbee and Ken Woodson of the Philadelphia Zoo.

In the absence of Land Use Committee chair Debra Wolf Goldstein, Commission chair Nancy Goldenberg introduced the two. She explained that because the project has been in the works for ten years and extensive remediation and studies have already been undertaken, the project has been deemed to meet the requirements of the park system’s new Land Use Ordinance and that no further paperwork will be requested.

Bisbee and Woodson then outlined the project which they said was necessary to address parking, traffic, and safety issues. When Commissioner Sarah Clark Stuart questioned whether not asking for an additional round of documents could set a bad precedent, Commissioner Alexander “Pete” Hoskins offered that since the garage is simply an improvement over an already-existing use, he didn’t believe such a review was necessary at all.

Hoskins next presented a report from the Revenue Enhancement Committee. A new food service provider has been secured for the Burholme Park Golf Center, he said, and bike rental stations, in partnership with a national outfit called Wheel Fun, will be in place soon at LoVE Park and Lloyd Hall. LoVE Park is also continuing to “evolve into one of the chicest food truck areas on the East Coast,” he said.

Goldenberg next handed the mike over to Lauren Bornfriend of the Philadelphia Parks Alliance, who finished the evening with a brief recap of a press event earlier in the day where several City Councilmembers reaffirmed their commitment to ask for increased funding for the parks and rec system. Bornfriend also handed out materials that detailed the city’s flat-lining park budget and compared it unfavorably to other large park systems in America.

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