Community gets sneak peak at park renovations

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By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

Renovated Magic Johnson Park will reopen to public in November

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas teamed up with the county Department of Parks and Recreation to host a sneak peek ceremony Oct. 3 to celebrate the $70 million makeover of Earvin “Magic” Johnson Park in Willowbrook.

“What you see before you today represents the dreams and vision of many members of this community,” Ridley-Thomas said. “Now more than ever, our communities deserve investments in our public spaces to make them centers for gathering, learning and respite. Magic Johnson Park has experienced a true transformation. My sincere appreciation goes out to all of the partners who have played an indispensable role in the revitalization and rebirth of this park.”

On hand for the celebration was Norma Garcia, the first female director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, Michael Govan, executive director of the county Museum of Art), Kristin Sakoda, executive director of the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture, Pastor Rafer Owens, (Faith Inspirational Church), community members, and keynote speaker and the park’s namesake Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson.

“Thanks to a tremendous partnership with Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the county of Los Angeles and other community organizations, we now have a state-of-the-art facility and high-quality amenities for the South Los Angeles community,” said Johnson, chairman, and CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises. “I applaud the county of Los Angeles for its commitment to making this park the best in L.A. County, and I can’t wait to see what’s to come. The arts are important to our community.”

Johnson, who prayed over the newly renovated park, said the new state-of-the-art center will “bless the community.”

“What has been the struggle for our community, in the Black and brown community, is we don’t have meeting places,” Johnson said. “Well, now we have that. They can come and be safe and play and have a good time.”

More than 250,000 children who live within five miles of the park are expected to utilize the park’s amenities.

Ridley-Thomas said he led efforts to revitalize Magic Johnson Park for the greater Los Angeles community because he understood that “parks generate economic, physical and social benefits while creating stronger community ties.”

“As we stay strong and persevere through this pandemic, I know that when it is safe to do so, this park will become a centerpiece for community gatherings and enjoyment,” Ridley-Thomas said.

Additions to the park, first dedicated in honor of the Los Angeles Lakers legend in November 1994, include a centerpiece, state-of-the-art 20,000-square-foot event center, children’s play areas, wedding pavilion, and a new, improved lake. The $70 million renovation project is one of the largest ever at an L.A. County park.

More than 30 acres of the park have been renovated with 16 more acres currently under construction. Last September, the county initiated the second phase of $10 million improvements.

Ridley-Thomas said the 16 additional acres of improvements will provide more space for outdoor events, a fitness loop/walking path, play mounds, a native butterfly garden, an off-leash dog park and an amphitheater. The second phase of construction is expected to be completed in 2021.

More than 290 trees and 35,000 new plants have been planted to landscape the park. New equipment installed underneath the park has been designed to capture 120,000 gallons of run-off water (on a non-rainy day) from the surrounding community and will be cleaned and used to irrigate the park.

“We are motivated by our mission to serve historically underserved communities with extraordinary projects such as the Magic Johnson Park, through the park needs assessment and our partnership with the Regional Park and Open Space District’s Measure A program,” said Norma Garcia, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation. “The real magic is how neighbors, partners and officials collectively worked together to transform a contaminated site, once used as an oil tank farm, to a model of sustainability; a park by the people for the people.”

“The renovated Magic Johnson Park and its new amenities are a wonderful resource for the surrounding community,” said Michael Govan, executive director of the county Museum of Art. “LACMA is so pleased to deepen our decade-long relationship with Willowbrook through arts programming at the new events center this fall, and we look forward to getting to know more families, schoolchildren and educators.”

Kristin Sakoda, director of the county Department of Arts and Culture said the park “sets a new standard for public space in Los Angeles County, and for the kinds of community engagement that the county can bring to its residents.”

“We are thrilled to have commissioned Carla J. Harris to create the original civic artwork for the park’s amazing event center, and we are excited to work with our colleagues at the Department of Parks and Recreation and LACMA to develop a new program of community-driven and culturally relevant arts and cultural events, classes, and activities at the park that will seek to engage, inspire and uplift through creative expression,” she said.

“While this pandemic may have forced us to showcase this park in a different way, I am thrilled that the South Los Angeles community had the opportunity to see the transformation firsthand from the safety and comfort of their cars,” Ridley-Thomas said. “Magic Johnson is an advocate for good. Magic Johnson is a leader and visionary for our community like no other — and we are so pleased that all of the sports teams that he is involved with, came together to celebrate this day with the Willowbrook community. This collaboration truly embodies the best of Los Angeles’ civic spirit.”

Following the sneak peek of the park, food and school supplies were provided to local families who participated in the back-to-school park drive-through. The first 2,500 cars were given fresh produce, backpacks, school supplies, sports paraphernalia and art kits.

The park officially opens in November with COVID-19 protocols in place.