Baltimore City Under Contract with CSX to Purchase Land for Riverside Park Expansion

| October 4, 2017 | 0 Comments

A plan to expand the athletic fields at Riverside Park is finally moving forward after seven years. Baltimore City’s Board of Estimates has approved a $300,000 purchase of the triangular-shaped piece of land, located beyond the outfield fences of Hap Hall Memorial Field softball field, from CSX. The deal is under contract, but the City has a due-diligence period during which an environmental impact assessment will be conducted. The sale is contingent on those results, according to Councilman Eric Costello.

Approximate dimensions of the land expansion outlined in black (screenshot courtesy of Google Maps)

A Riverside Park Master Plan was created by Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks in 2010 that outlined improvements for the 17-acre park in the Riverside Neighborhood of South Baltimore. Phase One of this plan was implemented in 2012 before the Star-Spangled Sailabration. The historical portions of the park were renovated with new pathways, lights, trash cans, and benches. The site is associated with the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812 and was known as Fort Lookout.

Phase Two, which would improve the athletic facilities at Riverside Park, was slated to begin in 2014. Baltimore City has $1.9 million in the bank for the project, but acquisition of the land for the expansion has not moved forward until now. Jackson Fisher, who coordinates activities for the Friends of Riverside Park, a subcommittee of the Riverside Neighborhood Association (RNA), told that 2018 will be used for environmental testing of the new land and finalizing a design, and that construction would likely begin in 2019. RNA has worked with Recreation and Parks during the planning of this expansion.

Phase Two renovations are expected to include full athletic field renovations of the Hap Hall Memorial Field and the adjacent sports field that is used for soccer, football, and ultimate Frisbee. The improvements will include new drainage, sod, lighting surrounding the fields, fencing, dugouts, and a seating area for spectators. Fisher noted that drainage is a big issue currently at the fields. The seating would likely be tiered on the hill facing the fields. The new land will allow for the short right field fence of Hap Hall Memorial Field to be extended, which would also allow for a wider playing field for soccer and football.

A baseball backstop is also located on the east end of the fields opposite of Hap Hall Memorial Field, and the existing fence creates a very short left field. This portion of the fields will likely only be extended about 10 ft. due to land constraints. Fisher was unsure if this will remain a baseball field. It is currently not used for organized baseball or softball.

RNA is also hoping the additional land will be used for a parking lot which could accommodate 15 to 20 cars. “That side (west side) of the park has significant parking issues,” said Fisher, noting how Riverside Park is used throughout the week by many sports leagues. “There have been discussions as far as adding signage that would allow parking for the teams in the early evening, and allowing residents to park there overnight.”

The idea of a dedicated dog park in the expanded park has been discussed for many years, but Fisher said, “RNA is hesitant to support that idea based on the quantity of dogs in the area and the maintenance issues that would be associated with it.”

The basketball courts will also be redone. Fisher said the two courts, one of which has been without baskets for many years, would likely be combined into one full-size basketball court. The red field house, which was once a recreation center, would also be repaired and include new functional bathrooms. Fisher is not sure whether this would include renovating the existing bathrooms, which have been closed to the public in recent years, or creating Porta Potty enclosures. The building is currently used for storage and houses the switch to turn on the field lights.

Phase Two would also likely include an extension of the sidewalk along Johnson St. to Wells St. Fisher said that RNA is hoping a sidewalk will be installed going across the park beyond the outfield fence connecting Johnson St. to Covington St. at Wells St.

“We are excited to see it come to fruition. It’s been a long time,” said Fisher. “The community really uses those fields on a regular basis and it deserves some work. It’s good to see the City will be putting in that work.”

Phase Three of the Riverside Park renovations will include improvements at the pool. This would likely include a renovated pool building with colonnades and pavilions for gathering. It could also include new splash pool attached to the existing baby pool and a new fountain at the park entrance to the pool. Fisher said there is no indication that Phase Three would take place anytime soon, and that the focus is on getting Phase Two completed.

Currently under construction around Riverside Park are new sidewalk bump-outs. The Baltimore City Department of Transportation project is designed for traffic calming and pedestrian safety. The bump-outs will be installed along Johnson St. at Barney St., Heath St., and Randall St., and along Randall St. at Riverside Ave., Covington Ave., Jackson St., and Webster St.

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