Once a bustling police substation and recreation center for teens, a city-owned parcel on a prominent stretch of Albany Avenue is now envisioned as a neighborhood park replete with a new basketball court, walking trail, covered seating and ornate landscaping.
The substation was razed seven years ago to make way for a new police satellite office. But the idea to rebuild the structure — first on the same spot, then later on Coventry Street — was scrapped after Mayor Pedro Segarra left office in 2015.
Last year, members of the community joined city officials and planning and zoning commissioners to give input on the future of the mostly vacant Albany Avenue parcel. Only a basketball court with tall, rusted fencing remains. The rest of thelot is covered in weeds and broken concrete. Litter and dead leaves lay scattered about.
But the group of city leaders and neighborhood dwellers who rallied behind plans for a park are optimistic that the upgrades will help revive the desolate area. They see the park as a space for elderly people to take a brisk walk and children to play after school.
“It’s going to make a big difference,” said Denise Best, a resident of the Upper Albany neighborhood who is chairwoman of the local revitalization group. “Just having people out there, especially our seniors, will bring a vibrancy. We are working to make it a place of destination.”
The state bond commission authorized $1.5 million for the project Tuesday. The funds were originally approved to build the new police substation, but were never used. Organizers say the park will probably cost between $1.5 million and $2 million, but any additional money would be solicited from private investors.
Work on the 1-acre site between Magnolia and Irving streets could begin as soon as this spring. A Hartford firm, Amenta Emma Architects, has been doing pro bono designs for the redevelopment, including several renderings that show sprawling green space with freshly planted trees, a gleaming new basketball court with stadium-style seating on one side, chess tables and a quarter-mile walking trail that makes a loop around the parcel.
The section facing Albany Avenue features rows of shaded seating, planter benches and sculptural landscaping.
Supporters say the project will not only create an outlet for people in the neighborhood, it will also spruce up a blighted space. Albany Avenue is a main city thoroughfare, and the lot is not far from a crucial gateway to the North End.
The corridor is getting significant improvements as part of a streetscape effort, with new traffic signals, lighting and curb extensions underway. Backers see the transformation of the vacant parcel as a complement to those upgrades.
“Whenever you drive down there, it’s an eyesore,” said Nicole Porter, a city resident and public schools employee who was part of the community group offering input on plans for the lot. “You want to do something to improve the area, keeping in mind that we also want to make sure it brings additional development.”
Marilyn Risi, head of the nonprofit Upper Albany Main Street, a community revitalization group in North Hartford, said she was concerned about the park being so close to a busy street. Fencing around the basketball court and other barriers between the recreation space and the cars that whiz by on Albany Avenue are crucial, she said.
“The distance from the play area to the street, it’s not that deep,” Risi said. “We don’t want little ones chasing a ball into the street.”
She praised the idea to move the basketball court, now located at the front of the property near Albany Avenue, away from the road and into the center of the parcel.
Mayor Luke Bronin said more community input will be sought before final designs are agreed upon.
“We’re trying to make it a place that’s more welcoming for businesses, that feels safer,” he said. “I do think there’s a connection between combating blight and public safety, and the way a neighborhood looks and feels matters to people.”
You can read the Hartford Courant Community article here.