Miami-Dade County

Gibson Park set to reopen in June

By Chantale Glover

After years of waiting, Overtown's Gibson Park is getting a $9.6 million upgrade.

And community anticipation is running high now that the long-overdue project is set to open in June.

The historic city park, 401 NW 12th St. in Miami, was demolished in December 2010 and is now in the final stages of renovation.

On a recent day, Carl, a 10-year-old student from nearby Frederick Douglass Elementary, and three enthused friends couldn't contain themselves as they all blurted out an answer at once.

They wanted to know if the rumors were true - that the park will have a pool, a gym and playing fields when it finally opens this summer.

It will have all of that and more.

"It means a lot to me because I like to swim, '' said Carl, as he peered excitedly through the school fence. "I can't wait for the pool."

Gibson Park will have not one pool but two. One will be 112 by 50 feet, or twice the size of a standard sized pool; the other will be a tot pool.

A common feeling among residents is the uncertainty of the park's completion.

"A lot of the community has this 'I'll believe it when I see it' attitude, " said Emanuel Washington, president and executive director of the Overtown Optimist club.

For decades promises have been made to the Overtown neighborhood only for those same promises to be broken.

"I'm almost like John the Baptist telling them it will happen, " he said. "The city has given residents a reason to doubt, money has come and gone, and nothing was done to Overtown."

Striking out many times in the past, Overtown has another chance at the plate.

A new football/baseball field will inhabit the 10-acre lot.

Football players will get a chance to play on the new Duraspine artificial turf, which is more durable and made from recycled materials like old tires and oil for a more springy feel.

According to construction manager Carlos Vasquez, the new system has been proven to prevent certain injuries such as ankle sprains.

The field will include concession stands, a press box, and over 1,500 seats in the bleachers.

Washington and others conducted a survey of nearly 400 Overtown residents to express their needs for the community. "They were able to tell us exactly what they wanted to see in the park, " Washington said.

Also planned is a weight and exercising room, with laundry, health room and other amenities.

For years Gibson Park did not receive proper maintenance.

"If there was a leak, they'd just come and patch it up. So we felt, why not use that money to build a new facility instead of doing patch-work, " said Rudolph Darrick, Overtown Optimist coach and construction worker.

"I'm hoping for classrooms. It will be more money, but the children need tutoring, " he said.

According to the city's Community Redevelopment Agency, there is an evaluation process that must take place before educational programs can be considered.

Once the facility is open those needs will be assessed.

The city Parks and Recreation Department estimates a need for roughly 10 employees for the park, not including aquatics personnel. The city will take applications when the park opens.

Now, the main buildings are up and the turf is down. What's left to be done, the landscaping, a few electrical wiring and the building's aesthetics.

"It's more than just a park, it's almost like life, " Washington said.