DALLAS — Organizers broke ground Monday on a massive renovation project to spruce up a popular park tucked between downtown Dallas and its Uptown neighborhood.
But in the plan to add benches and walking paths, neighbors worry they’re losing the biggest asset at Griggs Park: Fields of play.
"It is a bummer, definitely," said Kelly Brown, who has lived near the park for years and used to play kickball on its fields. “It’s a little disappointing to not have the ball fields.”
The 98-year-old park was recently shut down. Green fencing has been erected around its perimeter.
The baseball field, goal posts, and lights have already been torn down and will not be replaced.
The City of Dallas and a neighborhood non-profit group are spending $1.5 million over the next seven months to renovate the aging eight-acre park.
Plans include a monument to honor the park’s namesake, Rev. Allen Griggs, a former slave who built the city’s first black high school.
“Frankly, the park needed some renewal; the park is a little bit careworn,” said Joseph Pitchford, chairman of Uptown Dallas, Inc., a neighborhood group funding much of the improvement. “It needs to be reinvigorated to match this great neighborhood.”
But improvement plans met resistance.
At least 500 people came to the park every week to play organized games of kickball, flag football and softball. Barry Griffith was one of many who fought to save the fields.
“They told us we’re not going to be able to play there anymore,” Griffith said. “We were very disappointed. There was nothing else like it right in the heart of Uptown.”
Griffith's company, Dallas Sport and Social Club, organizes various sporting leagues and tournaments that have been popular with the young professionals who fill the townhomes and apartments in the surrounding neighborhood. The location of Griggs Park is particularly attractive to young people, who can walk to nearby bars and restaurants after games.
“We had to move a lot of our leagues, and that lost us a lot of people,” he said. “Quality athletic fields are hard to come by.”
Griffith has tried shifting his games to other parks, but says many fields now quickly fill up. Without Griggs available, he says he’s been forced to scale back the number of flag football games he schedules.
To make up for the loss, Griffith is organizing more sand volleyball matches that can be held at a private club in Deep Ellum.
“Flag football in particular was really the sport that was hurt the most,” he said. “There hasn't been another place that provides exactly that atmosphere that the flag football players want.”
The City of Dallas insists there is plenty of space for everyone to play — they just might have to travel further for it.
The city has 321 athletic fields spread over approximately 150 parks. The city says there is no waiting list to reserve fields for the 110 athletic associations it works with.
Besides, Pitchford said Griggs’ ball fields weren’t a good match for the neighborhood. They attracted large crowds, traffic, and garbage, among other problems, he said.
“The ball fields were just taking up too much of the park,” Pitchford said. “We don't think it’s the best use for this neighborhood oasis.”
Yet Griffith and others feel left out, asking the question: What better use is there for a park, other than for play?
“I'm sure it will be beautiful and lovely for the couple dozen of people a week as compared to the hundreds of people a week that were enjoying it as an athletic field,” he said.