CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — A pop-up park in a notably underserved Champaign neighborhood got its final touches Wednesday ahead of a Thursday evening ribbon-cutting ceremony.
After about three months of planning, Hedge POP! Park popped up in the last couple of weeks at the corner of Hedge Road and Garden Hills Drive in the Garden Hills neighborhood. It’s the only play space for about 400 to 500 homes on the south side of the neighborhood, which is divided by railroad tracks.
“There is a park at Garden Hills School,” Rob Kowalski, the city’s assistant director of planning and development said. “But what we’ve heard from many of the kids on this side of the railroad tracks is they’re not allowed to cross the tracks to go up to that park.”
The pop-up park is temporary. Kowalski said it’s an 18-month placeholder until a long-awaited neighborhood project begins.
“This project is actually to build a drainage basin that will solve flooding problems in the neighborhood,” Kowalski explained.
The city set aside between $12 and $15 million in federal coronavirus relief money through the American Rescue Plan to end the consistent issue but those projects are a while out. Kowalski said the drainage basin is still in the design phase and the city expects to break ground in July 2023.
The ARPA funds are also allocated to adding sidewalks and lighting throughout the neighborhood.
“People have to walk in the streets with no sidewalks, sometimes they’re flooded, and no lights at night and it’s not a safe situation,” Kowalski said.
Blocks of houses on the north side of Hedge Road were cleared out in the last year in preparation for the basin, creating a large open green space next to the much smaller park. The city has blocked off the land by forming a perimeter with large tree trunks.
Robert Mullins has had a front-row seat to watching phases of the project unfold from his front porch.
“Those tree stumps they put down there, I think that was a really bad idea,” he said.
“They had the weekend parties every weekend right up and down through here,” which is the reason city officials say they blocked the land off from cars.
“It don’t stop ’em,” Mullins said, admitting it has at least stopped people from parking in the open space.
“now they got the parallel parking,” he said, pointing to a line of cars on the street kitty-corner from his home where his 4-year-old grandson frequently rides his bike.
Kowalski said cars likely frequent the space because parking isn’t allowed on the side streets, but the city is considering changing that when they rebuild Hedge Road and a couple of other neighborhood streets.
“Once that gets done, if they got a place out there where they could ride the bikes, it would keep them out of the streets, but [cars] come through here at 75-80 miles per hour every day,” Mullins complained.
“On that stop sign, it should say ‘go’ instead of ‘stop.’ I’m serious.”
The solution is still a couple of years out. In the meantime, Mullins keeps an eye on his grandson who was thrilled with the new amenities.
“It’s been a really long ride,” said Roya Nassirpour, the park project specialist for the city. “But we’re just excited to see everything come together
Programs will be going all summer, according to Nassirpour. The Hip Hop Xpress crew will be out running the RC car race track every Monday and Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m. through the fall and every week they’ll be a different activity planned in addition.
Nassirpour said the city is still looking for ideas. Proposals can be submitted on the city’s website through June 30. The program specialist said a banner with scheduling will soon hang in the park.
There will be a bigger, more permanent park in the years to come. Kowalski said city officials need to first figure out exactly what space the basin will take up and the city would like to get more input about what community members would like to see in that future park.