First, it was the Washington Heights community that weeks ago raised various concerns with Dade City leadership, asserting their local neighborhood and subdivision has been neglected in funding and resources.
Now, the Mickens-Harper community has come forward to levy complaints to the city, particularly for what they view as inadequate amenities and upkeep at Naomi S. Jones Park and the James Irvin Civic Center, at 38122 Martin Luther King Blvd.
Over a handful of middle-aged residents from the predominately Black neighborhood stepped forward during a Sept. 20 virtual city commission meeting, sharing written letters and making statements during a public comment period.
Many of the speakers expressed how the park and its recreation center have fallen in disrepair, and is a shell of its former self decades ago.
Citizens called for additional features to be installed at the park — including more pavilions; a covered playground area with new exercise equipment; more picnic tables and seating, upgraded lighting; and more routine landscaping, like edging and weeding, among other upgrades.
They also outlined various issues with the civic center building. They said the roof is leaking. There’s mold and it needs a new coat of pain. They complained about limited space in the kitchen, and outdated appliances and furnishings. The building needs expansion to accommodate larger events, residents said.
Chloe Senia recently moved back to Dade City after being away for about 45 years.
She recalled fond memories at the park when she was growing up as a youth decades ago, but was troubled to see the park’s conditions upon return to her hometown.
“I am very excited to be back in the City of Dade City, but it was very disturbing to walk out to and see the upkeep, and the condition of the park and the recreation center. …To see that there have been no improvements to the building, was pretty sad.”
She, too, pointed out the city recently upgraded other parks, such as Price Park on Magnolia Avenue, while Naomi Jones Park seemingly has been ignored: “When I look at other parks, it makes me wonder, ‘Where is the funding for Naomi Jones?’”
Those sentiments were summed up in a letter by Ella Mae Hamilton, who has been in the city the past 22 years.
While she complimented the city for funding a new bathroom/concession stand at Mickens Field and planning out a downtown community splash park, she said more needs to be done at Naomi Jones Park. She specifically requested shading for playground equipment, another pavilion and an updated kitchen: “I pray that these projects will be met for the betterment of the citizens of this city. After all, we pay taxes like everyone else.”
Meanwhile, long-time resident Anita Blake shared a recent negative experience at the park and civic center.
Blake detailed how she organized a birthday party for her 5-year-old granddaughter in November, but discovered the civic center’s kitchen oven was inoperable when she tried heating up food. Moreover, she ordered tables and chairs from the city, but they weren’t delivered on time, forcing her to scramble to make other accommodations.
This was all after she had paid designated permit and rental fees to the city, she said.
“The city knew some of this stuff was not intact, and they were still OK with me paying the whole payment,” Blake told commissioners, adding she’d have been better off renting out the Alice Hall Community Center in nearby Zephyrhills for the same price, surmising they offer better service and amenities.
She later underscored how the park’s features haven’t been upgraded since she was in school many years ago: “If you go out there to the park, the swings that are out there are the (same) swings when I went to Mickens.”
In response to all the concerns and demands, Dade City Mayor Camille Hernandez said the matter is being addressed by department heads, who will be performing site visits and coordinating a priority improvement list. City workers might be able to make some of the improvements, the mayor said. Other upgrades “are much bigger line items that need to be put on some type of list so we can get those accomplished,” she added.
Hernandez said she appreciates residents for bringing the issue to the commission’s attention.
“We take this matter very seriously,” Hernandez said. “We’ve heard your pleas to address this area, the importance of it, from not only the community and the heritage and the legacy of those families that have preceded us, but the importance of the future of our children that are there in our communities,” Hernandez said.
Meantime, the city is already in the works of applying for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding to install sun shade covers over the playground equipment at Naomi Jones Park. Grant funding also is being requested to install an inclusive and ADA accessible playground apparatus on the proposed downtown community park on 10th Street, and install ADA compliant playground apparatus in Watson Park on 19th Street.
Published September 30, 2020