The heart of a North Philadelphia neighborhood beats its bad rep.
Many relics of the park’s grand forgotten history, like the first horse track and the old Dentzel Carousel (built in 1924 and razed in 1967), will never return. But soon, much of it will.
The initial phase of the Conservancy’s multiyear, six-phase, $20 million revitalization plan focuses on improved lighting, surveillance and ball-field restoration. Wilhelm calls the initial improvements the “shorter-term action plan.”
“We called it that because we want to be able to make measured improvements to continue the momentum that we built,” says Wilhelm.
The initial features $4 million worth of renovations that are slated to take place in 2010 as additional donor money is sought to fund the rest of the plan, which includes brand-new courts and fields, bleachers, new drainage systems, picnic areas and hundreds of improvements too long to list.
Wilhelm says the Conservancy has already secured approximately $600,000 early implementation dollars via donations from Citizens Bank, city funding and the Phillies’ Ryan Howard, among others. The Conservancy prizes the $50,000 donated by the Ryan Howard Family Foundation toward restoring a baseball diamond, both because it is the Foundation’s very first donation and because of the prestige that Howard brings to the project.
“The financial part is an incredible and generous contribution, but for us, just to have his name and star power associated with this project built such momentum,” says Wilhelm.
The Fairmount Park Conservancy is also boosting efforts by selecting Hunting Park as its 2010 Growing the Neighborhood program, which essentially means that the park will get first dibs on volunteer resources throughout the year.
Meanwhile, the Conservancy’s momentum is building on recent surge of development in the area: The Esperanza Health Center recently received a $6 million federal grant for a community-health clinic at Sixth and Cayuga streets; and two months ago, Temple University opened a new $265 million medical building nearby on North Broad Street.
Like the Aztecs football team’s unexpected championship, the changes coming to Hunting Park in 2010 will seem to outsiders like they’re out of nowhere. But, really, it’s a result of slow, steady, under-the-radar work of locals who have been quietly pushing back for years.
Behind a wall of bulletproof glass at the Alba Grocery store on Cayuga Street stands 59-year-old Catalina Hunter. Hunter and husband George have been active citizens and shopkeepers in the community for years. Hunter, who immigrated here when she was 20, is a member of the Hunting Park Civic Association, the Hunting Park Stakeholders and Hunting Park United, a park stewardship group that grew out of community meetings about the revitalization plan.