Construction Officially Underway on Riverside Park Athletic Facilities

| September 19, 2022 | 0 Comments

Baltimore City Department of Recreation & Parks’ (BCRP) renovation of the athletic facilities at Riverside Park is now officially underway as the City’s contractor McDonnell Landscape, LLC arrived on site today. The $2,360,000 project is expected to take 18 months to complete.

This project, which has been delayed several times, was originally slated to start in 2014. Construction starting dates were also targeted in 2019 and 2020. Environmental assessments began on this project in early 2020.

This project was made possible by BCRP purchasing a triangular-shaped piece of land located beyond the outfield fences of Hap Hall Memorial Field from CSX for $300,000 in May 2018.

Jackson Fisher, who coordinates activities for the Friends of Riverside Park, a subcommittee of Riverside Neighborhood Association, provided an updated to SouthBMore.com. From the update:

The project is a three phase project with the initial phase expected to take 18 months.  Phase 1 will address all of the existing field spaces and supporting infrastructure.  In this phase, the fields, hardcourts, fencing, lighting, drainage, and access areas will be upgraded to current athletic field standards.  Phase 2 will renovate the red field house building and bathrooms.  This phase is expected to take 6-9 months and should begin next year.  Both Phase 1 and Phase 2 should conclude at approximately the same time (18 months or so).  Phase 3 will address the additional 3-acre area south of the softball field on the old CSX property.  Currently plans and funding for Phase 3 have not been finalized.  RNA is very excited that this project has started and is looking forward to the field improvements in 18 months.

As expected, with a project of this size, there will be significant disruptions and limited access to the athletic field areas of Riverside Park.  Starting this week, an exclusion fence will be erected across the park from Johnson street to Covington street.  It will start just north of the pickleball/skateboard court, go around the red house, and follow the main path to the service building at the end of Covington street.  There will be no community access to the construction site.  The project involves significant grading and heavy machinery work.  Generally, all site access will be routed onto the site from an entrance that will be located in the southwest corner (Johnson St/Wells St intersection).  We are expecting most construction traffic to avoid Johnson street and enter/exit the site from Wells street.  As space and conditions allow, construction parking will be provided on the site.  We are actively working with the contractor and the city to help mitigate the impact of this project on the surrounding areas.

RNA will provide updates to the community as they become available through our monthly meetings and social media accounts.

Skateboarders who use the abandoned basketball court at Riverside Park have been notified to relocate the ramps and ledges this week.

A Riverside Park Master Plan was created by BCRP 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 will improve the athletic facilities at Riverside Park. BCRP has $900,000 to renovate the red field house.

The 868 sq. ft., one-story red field house was once a recreation center that used to host dances for youth in the community. The building has been used in recent years for storage. Its bathrooms in the rear of the building are not functional.

The field house has a new roof, but the rest of the building will be gutted and reconfigured with new HVAC, plumbing, and electric. Two unisex bathrooms will be moved to the front of the building facing the path, and a 428 sq. ft. concessions room will be added with a window facing the front of the building. The field house will have a mechanical room, two storage rooms in the concession area, and two storage rooms accessible from the exterior of the building.

The patio in front of the field house will be improved and will include a seating area overlooking the fields. There will be table seating, a seating wall along the sides of the building, bike racks, and a shade structure. The concession room will not have a full kitchen and it will be used for mostly for fundraisers.

BCRP will use the new land acquired from CSX to expand Hap Hall Memorial Field, which is used for baseball and softball, and to create a wider playing field for soccer and football towards the eastern end of the field.

The fields will be surrounded in new fencing and there will continue to be a right field fence for Hap Hall Memorial Field, but not a left field fence. Concrete bleachers will be built into the hill facing the fields, a new stairway will be added, a dog water fountain will be installed, and a ramp will be constructed for ADA access.

A new full-size basketball court will also be built as well as a flat court shared by pickle ball and skateboarding. The pickle ball court was added to the plan in 2020. These courts will replace the current non-full-size basketball court and an adjacent second court that has been without baskets for many years and has been used for skateboarding and pickle ball in recent years.

Just south of the basketball court will be a bio-retention area. Another bio-retention area will be built in the southeast corner of the park below a Baltimore City garage.

A new path system will be constructed so visitors can walk around the athletic facilities. This will include an extension of the sidewalk along Johnson St. until it hits E. Wells St. and a new path that connects E. Wells St. to Covington St.

Fisher said that due to regulations placed on dog parks, they were unable to find a location in the park for one. Dog parks have to be a certain distance from residences, which is a challenge as the park is surrounded on three sides by homes. Dog parks must also be placed on a flat surface to avoid contaminated run-off.

Jackson said Phase Three has not yet been funded and ideas for it are being discussed. A parking lot was proposed for this area in recent plans, but Fisher noted there are currently underutilized public guest parking spaces at the eastern end of 2 East Wells’ lot. Fisher said the idea of another flat court has been discussed for this area.

Some cosmetic improvements were made to Riverside Park Pool in 2019 thanks to a $49,500 grant from the South Baltimore Gateway Partnership (SBGP) and a volunteer effort from Riverside Neighborhood Association and residents in the South Baltimore community.

In 2018, sidewalk bump-outs were completed around Riverside Park. The Baltimore City Department of Transportation designed the project for traffic calming and pedestrian safety. The bump-outs were 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.

Two exercise equipment areas were added to Riverside Park in 2019.

BCRP’s Sports Turf Management renovated and moved into the the service building and maintenance yard in the southeast corner of the park in 2020.

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

Renderings courtesy of Baltimore City Department of Recreation & Parks (click to enlarge). The pickle ball court added since this rendering was created.

Photos of Riverside Park from 2018

About the Author:

Founder and Publisher of SouthBmore.com, longtime resident of South Baltimore, and a graduate of Towson University. Diehard Ravens and O's fan, father of three, amateur pizza chef, skateboarder, and "bar food" foodie. Email me at Kevin@InceptMM.com and follow me on Twitter at @SoBoKevin.
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