PORTSMOUTH – Members of the Board of Wings of Hope, a non-profit organization dedicated to Portsmouth’s youth, and dozens of their supporters attended the City Council meeting Monday evening to demand support for their Bannon Park upgrade project.
Bannon Park, located in the City’s North End neighborhood, is owned by the City. However, like many City parks, it is in need of repairs and upgrades. According to their website, Wings of Hope plans to expand the park, install new playground equipment, lighting, security cameras, a garden, and amphitheater and make the park ADA compliant. To do so, Wings of Hope needs to raise upwards of $700,000.
Thus far, Wings of Hope have raised over $9,000 towards the project. But according to supporters and board members, they have also secured additional land, playground equipment pledges, and more. Now, they are asking the city to write a letter of support for the project and possibly include match dollars on grants going forward.
“We would like to extend Bannon Park to the hill side,” explained La’Toshia Malone, Board Member for Wings of Hope. “We’ve communicated with Scioto Valley Limited Partnership, who owns the 16th Street Apartments and that piece of land, and they are very excited to help us. We have proposed them leasing the land to the city for a dollar per year for 30 years…we will also lease the entire East side of Robinson avenue and replace the brush with a flower garden.”
“Scioto Valley Limited has agreed to build steps from the 16th Street Apartments to the park…which would provide children with an update to date place to play and an extended positive environment which would reduce drug use in and around the park.”
Malone described Bannon Park as having a major drug problem.
“There is a tree we called the giving tree. It is surrounded by drug activity,” Malone explained. “It is widely known, across our city, if you are in need of drugs and you stand under the giving tree someone will accommodate you. We plan to change that connotation by taking back our park.”
Malone said that while Wings of Hope have been fundraising and identifying grants, there are few they can apply for without the support of the city.
“We need the city to make this vision a reality,” said Board Member Talitha Malone. “We have requested a letter of support from the city but still have not received it. We need it to show potential investors that we have the city’s support on this project. This project is a win-win situation. We hope to have the city’s support.”
Talitha Malone also stated there would be additional costs to the initial $700,000 estimate such as the amphitheater ($200,000), interactive playground pieces ($100,000), bathrooms, lighting, security cameras and more.
Nearly two dozen supporters spoke out at the meeting. Some questioned the city’s lack of support as having racial undertones. However, 2nd Ward Councilwoman Charlotte Gordon and 3rd Ward Councilman Andy Cole said the process is simply a long one – especially considering the city is in fiscal watch.
“We will move forward,” promised Gordon. “The goal here is our children. The goal is the park. It will be an arduous process because we are a city in fiscal watch. Sam (Sutherland) and I speak frequently about this…we are trying to move forward.”
“We are a small town with limited resources,” said Cole. “I think everyone in our town understand that no matter where you are coming from or what your needs are. We haven’t given up. We are still trying to find the right process moving forward.”
Just two weeks ago, City Engineer Nathan Prosch suggested the city divest itself of the current parks because of a lack of maintenance and funds to care for them – instead saying the City should lease them to interested organizations. City Manager Sam Sutherland was not present at the meeting to comment.
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