SCHENECTADY — A bit of green has replaced a lot of rot along Eastern Avenue, and, to the delight of neighborhood children this hot summer, there’s plenty of water flying around.
Officials formally cut the ribbon Thursday on the new Tribute Park, named literally as a tribute to the working men and women who built the city into a center of industry a century ago.
The park is neither brand new nor finished — its kid-activated spray pad has been open all summer, and fundraising is ongoing for playground equipment — but Thursday’s event was a chance to acknowledge all the donations of time, money and sweat that made it possible.
The park has taken about five years and roughly a half-million dollars to build, so far. At the center of the process was the Capital Region Land Bank, which acquired three contiguous parcels that now host the 0.41-acre pocket park.
David Hogenkamp, executive director of the land bank, said one parcel was vacant, one held a derelict vacant house and one held a derelict former tavern. The land bank demolished the two structures and tested the soil to verify the site was suitable for a children’s playground before starting the design process for the park and finding donors to pay for its construction.
The Eastern Avenue corridor has been a focus of revitalization efforts by the Land Bank, the city and the county, with multiple demolitions of derelict structures and, more recently, some construction projects.
The night before Thursday’s ribbon-cutting, a $19 million project to create 55 new apartments in the former St. Mary’s School and in a planned, 34,000-square-foot building, cleared the first regulatory hurdle, when the city Zoning Board of Approvals approved variances that project will need.
Hogenkamp said, as work began on the neighborhood, it became obvious there were no parks nearby for children.
“We saw all the kids playing out on the street,” he said.
So adding a park became part of the blueprint.
Major donors for the effort were the Schenectady Foundation and the Wright Family Foundation, providing $100,000 each, but numerous other organizations contributed money and labor, Hogenkamp said.
The Eastern Avenue Neighborhood Association chose the name and installed the ornamental plantings, for example.
“It was basically a quiltwork of all these funding sources,” he added.
Some of the donors aren’t done: The Capital Region Rotary Club is raising money to buy playsets for the large grassy area encircled by the oval sidewalk that leads to the spray pad. It plans a special after-work fundraiser on Sept. 26 at Warehouse Grill & BBQ in Colonie specifically for the project.
Standing next to a photo of a one of the now-demolished Eastern Avenue zombie houses, Mayor Gary McCarthy noted the nature of neighborhood revitalization.
“The Eastern Avenue story is only half-written,” he said, competing with a call-and-response chorus of “Marco!” and “Polo” from young voices behind him.
“We’ve seen a transformation — a building out of Downtown. It’s taken demolition. It’s taken investment. It’s taken a creative approach to the problems and creating opportunities in our neighborhoods. You see the projects, and it doesn’t happen overnight. We just want to reassure people that we are going to continue to move forward.
“It doesn’t happen just from the city’s perspective; it happens because of that collective engagement.”