With about $2.5 million in upgrades to the Little Rock city parks system in the works, officials are cheering several projects on deck for underserved areas and credited community collaboration.
The majority are funded by the city's three-eighths-cent sales tax, which voters approved in 2011. Others will be grant-funded.
Mayor Frank Scott Jr., city directors and the city parks staff gathered Thursday for a groundbreaking ceremony at Crump Park , where they attributed the projects' progress to the work and support of residents.
"This is a product of listening to our community," Scott said.
Last month, the city board signed off on a $450,000 contract for the installation of a splash pad that will sit just north of the park's pavilion, and for other improvements that will include upgrades to the park's half-mile walking trail and benches.
"It started with the residents. It started with the neighborhood associations, and that's why we're here today with these projects," John Eckart, director of the city's Parks and Recreation Department, told a masked group of city staff members and residents who gathered in the park's pavilion Thursday morning.
Construction on the splash pad is to begin this fall, Eckart said.
Community leaders from the adjacent South End neighborhood said they'd been talking about improving Crump Park for decades.
Ruby Jeffries, president of the South End Coalition, said a splash pad in Crump Park means the children in her neighborhood won't have to leave their neighborhood to visit the ones at Riverfront Park or War Memorial Park.
"It's wonderful, something that we've been waiting on a long time," Jeffries said.
All splash pads are currently closed because of the pandemic.
Ward 2 City Director Ken Richardson said it is exciting to see improvements in parts of the city that are underserved.
"It was a real investment in something real that they can point to and appreciate," Richardson said. "Sometimes they feel neglected by the city, and I think rightfully so. Hopefully it's the beginning of some significant investment in the inner city, in this part of Little Rock."
Sales tax dollars also will fund improvements at several other parks.
The playground at the Dunbar Community Center will get an upgrade, with the city board approving a $71,643 contract with Landscape Structures last month to install synthetic turf.
For Hindman Park, the city approved a $125,000 contract with CXT Concrete Buildings to construct new restrooms. The park's bathrooms were destroyed in a storm about two years ago, and the new ones will be out of the flood plain, according to Eckart.
Western Hills Park will get a new pavilion and playground. The city board approved a $515,000 contract with Gametime to construct and install the structures.
Scott thanked the South End Neighborhood Association for its support of the three-eighths-cent sales tax back in 2011.
"We're thankful for the South End, that have supported our city directors and have supported this, and we want to see more investment, and more investment starts with money and more investment starts with more decision-making as we work with our community groups, because we don't know when we're going to need that investment again, but we want to ensure that if we say we're going to do something, that it was done," Scott said to applause from the group.
The city is also applying for grants to make other park improvements and for work on a planned trail project.
The city board authorized the staff to apply for a $250,000 grant from the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism Outdoor Recreation Grant Program to make renovations at MacArthur and Wakefield parks.
The grant money, for which the city would provide $250,000 in matching funds, would be used to renovate playgrounds and other amenities in the two parks, including the addition of items compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The city took another step toward a project called the Tri-Creek Greenway, a pedestrian and bicycle trail that would connect War Memorial and Hindman parks while encompassing Brodie, Fourche and Rock creeks.
City directors authorized the staff to apply for a federal grant that would provide $500,000 and require $100,000 in matching funds to go toward the trail's construction.
Over the past several months, the city has been acquiring the property it needs to construct the greenway.