Like many of you, I have heard rumors that St. Francis Parish in the Buckman neighborhood was thinking of selling St. Francis Park (SE 12th & Stark) to make money for long deferred maintenance and capital expenses at the church. Since I worked for eighteen years (’80-’98) as Park Director and Head of Maintenance at the church, I completely understand their needs, but sell the park—NO!!
St. Francis Park is privately owned, yes, but it now has 45 years of public and people- powered sweat equity, public money, federal money, many generous donations from local foundations and individuals. Even the United States Marine Corps has helped!
All of this was done because “Buckman is a park deficient neighborhood,” and the city has admitted that fact time and time again in its grant awards. The city certainly should not give any grants designed to destroy what they have helped build over the past 40 years. Sure, the current visitors to the park may not seem welcoming to other members of the community, but things change and people move on. Parks are forever.
Visionary nuns, headed by Sister Mary Louise Volk and teachers at the adjacent school, decided to turn over their run-down playground to the neighborhood. That action set in motion energy that even they couldn’t expect. Volunteer architects, artists of all media, construction company owners, local politicians, and hundreds of local adult and kid volunteers stepped up to raise the money, find the “stuff” (including the mast from a decommissioned navy destroyer—talk about turning your swords into plowshares) and largely built, over the next 5-6 years, what has been termed by a visiting UNESCO officer as the “most creative use of water in a playground anywhere in the world”.
Now, there is a serious offer out there to purchase the land. To their credit, the parishioners of the church have turned down cash offers by other private developers. They really are trying to do the right thing when there appears to be no other options open to them. Maybe that is not the case—perhaps all we need to do is offer more money! It seems to old naïve me we should offer $2.5 million! It must just be there…somewhere. I pray.
I grew up thinking “parks are forever.” They represent a community trust and expectation. The park I played in can and should be played in by my kids and grandkids. I guess what I’m saying is that St. Francis Park is really no longer just a piece of developable land, but has become a park by and for the “people” and for all generations. Perhaps it isn’t lost yet.