Any plans for an extension of Central Avenue won't jeopardize Lincoln Park, Mayor Andy Berke announced Friday at a press conference.
Standing on the park's rundown tennis courts with Erlanger Hospital looming behind him, the mayor said he was "100 percent committed" to preserving the park, which was Chattanooga's first public park for the black community and one of the only parks of its kind designated for blacks across the Southeast decades ago.
"I want Lincoln Park to be a true community asset that strengthens this neighborhood while honoring this historic place in our city," Berke said. "We're here because we are committed to preserving this park. That's what all of us are going to be doing, have been doing and will be doing."
Along with Berke, members of Lincoln Park's Neighborhood Association, Councilman Moses Freeman and Erlanger CEO Kevin Spiegel were on hand for the announcement. The mayor's remarks came the morning after Erlanger board members did not consider a resolution to donate 5 acres of land adjacent to the park to the city for future extension of the road.
Berke said he would work to provide adequate answers to any remaining questions regarding the land by the board before their next meeting in order to ensure an informed vote by the group.
"I know based on last night there are some Erlanger board members who want some additional information about what this process entails," he said.
When asked if he knew the dollar value of the land, Berke declined to say.
"The value of the land to this community is priceless," Berke said. "From my standpoint, what I care about is how we utilize the land in the best possible way. And so I don't have a dollar value."
Once details regarding the transfer of the land are ironed out, the mayor said his office would partner with the Trust for Public Land to see that the park was preserved. The mayor committed to seeking community involvement and input on any changes or future plans for the park, reiterating several times that no road would pass through it.
"No road will be built through this park," he said.
When asked if he still intended to pursue a plan for extending Central Avenue to connect with Riverfront Parkway, the mayor said any changes to the road should be carried out in a way that would be beneficial to nearby communities. According to a Chattanooga Times Free Press report, Lincoln Park has already lost more than half its original footprint to encroachment from both the railroad and growth occurring at Erlanger.
"One of the things I think that will benefit this community is if we engage in the best possible process that will result in extending Central Avenue in a way that benefits and strengthens Lincoln Park while also opening up areas closer to Riverfront Parkway for development, both for medical and other industries," Berke said.
A possible extension of Central Avenue would require almost $6 million and approximately $1.5 million from the city. Lacie Stone, spokeswoman for Berke, said the city was still in a "study phase" regarding an extension.
Lincoln Park opened its gates April 12, 1918. Over the years, the park grew and attracted groups by the busload from locales across the Southeast who came to enjoy its Olympic-sized pool, tennis and basketball courts, baseball fields, and amusement park rides—including a Ferris wheel.
Vanice Hughley, who is president of the Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association, remembers visiting the park as a child in the 1940s and '50s.
"This was it," Hughley said, pointing to areas of the park she would visit. "There were open-air dances over there, the swimming pool was right there by those cars, and the Ferris wheel was over there. Every weekend, this park was just busting at the seams. If you had a quarter, you could stay all day long … This was our playground. And you didn't have to worry about anything because you knew that you were safe in this park."
Hughley welcomed Friday's news with joyous enthusiasm.
"I'm floating, standing here on the ground," she said. "I'm just so thrilled."
Freeman, who represents District 8, which includes Lincoln Park, applauded the news. Freeman also recalled visiting the park.
"It's like an old homecoming of sorts," he said. "Lincoln Park has had a lot of great days out here for me and for each of us who are present here, but this is another of those great days. It's a great day for Lincoln Park."
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