ATLANTIC CITY — City resident Carlos Cruz recently walked by Brown’s Park while holding hands with his 6-year-old stepdaughter.
Looking at the park that’s still under construction, he remembered what it used to be just a year ago — an area filled with drugs and homeless men and women — and hopes he’ll soon be able to safely bring his daughters to the city park to play.
The Harold R. Brown Memorial Park renovation project began in December to bring new equipment, a stage, play areas and a sculpture to honor veterans as part of an effort to improve the plot of land that sits between Stanley Holmes Village and the Schoolhouse Apartments in the city’s 3rd Ward.
The park’s transformation is nearly complete, with it slated to open May 29, Memorial Day.
But while city officials and some residents are excited to see changes come to the park through the $1.5 million project, some residents, like Cruz, said no renovation can stop people from coming to the same parts of the city as they were before.
“You can’t stop people from coming to a place they used to come to,” said Cruz, 24, who said he used to spend time himself in the park. “It’s a good idea for the kids. … If it’s not to my liking, I’ll leave.”
During a tour of the city’s new projects in April, then-city Planning Director Elizabeth Terenik acknowledged the same concern but said increased programming at the park will deter illegal activity. The key is for residents and neighbors to use the park regularly, she said.
City Councilman Kaleem Shabazz hosted a May 4 community meeting, along with Mayor Don Guardian and the city’s project manager, Robert Preston, to bring residents up to date on the project. They brought together people who live in the area to welcome residents’ comments and concerns at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church.
Some residents at the meeting brought up fears the park will go back to being a drug-infested area and wondered what would be done for children who visit the park. But many offered ideas about programs and events to bring to the park, too.
The new park will include more lights, cameras and a fence that will be locked during off hours at night, Preston said.
“The bottom line is, we want to have a safe environment for youngsters and seniors,” Shabazz said.
Officials said there will be movie nights featuring family films throughout the summer and a space for groups to host events and activities for city residents.
The entire park will be wheelchair-accessible for those with disabilities, offering ramps around different pathways in the park. The playground will feature modern, safe equipment for children to play on, including devices for those who are hearing- or vision-impaired, Preston said.
There will also be an area for adults with exercise equipment and a community stage, he said.
“It has truly been designed for all ages,” Preston said.
Richard Isaac, who lives around the corner from the park, said he thinks the area will be cleaned up with the renovations and that it will deter people from doing things they shouldn’t. He used to avoid even cutting through the park before the renovations.
“There will be kids,” he said. “You don’t need anybody sitting in there drinking.”
Shabazz said that while no one can stop people from using or selling drugs completely, they can try to stop them from using or selling within Brown’s Park. Guardian said the Police Department plans to have Class II officers patrol the park for increased security.
“There are more children close to this facility than anyone else,” Guardian said. “It’s an embarrassment for all of us to have the park the way it was.”
Lakeyia Hitch, 33, and Jessica Jones, 32, who live in the Schoolhouse Apartments and both have three children, said they hope the park will become a better place to bring their kids.
“It will be all right for a while, but then it’ll go back to its old ways,” Jones said. “I hope not.”
Officials will hold a ribbon-cutting and grand opening on Memorial Day, followed by a ceremonial wreath-laying in honor of Vietnam veterans and a cookout for the holiday.
“We remember when Brown’s Park was a place where you could come and let your children play,” Shabazz said. “We want to bring that back.”