20 minutes before Grove Park’s scheduled reopening Saturday morning, Berkeley High School sophomores Buddy Traylor and Robert Smith stood outside the park’s gates, dribbling a basketball.
The Grove Park sports courts, a set of basketball and tennis courts on Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Oregon Street, had been closed for renovations since August 2016. The grand reopening debuted newly paved and painted courts, an LED lighting system for night visibility, remodeled bathrooms and increased access for those with disabilities. About 70 community members gathered to celebrate the park’s reopening with music, snacks and casual games on the new courts.
At 11 a.m., the event’s scheduled start time, city employee Brandon Luckey told community members gathered outside the gate to wait a few more minutes for final event preparation.
“That’s messed up,” Traylor said to Luckey. “We’re ready to go. It’s been a year and a half (of) waiting already.”
Traylor, Smith and other community members who frequented Grove Park before its closure moved to San Pablo Park to play tennis and basketball during the renovation.
Berkeley City Councilmember Ben Bartlett, representative for City Council District 3, where Grove Park is located, cut the ribbon after 11:30 a.m., officially opening the new tennis and basketball courts to the public.
In his opening remarks, Bartlett highlighted the importance of funding projects in South Berkeley, an area which has historically been a center for Berkeley’s Black community. He also recounted times in his childhood when he visited the park with his German Shepherd.
“For many years, South Berkeley was overlooked,” Bartlett said. “There is true equity now, and this park is a symbol of that.”
The reopening of Grove Park celebrated the completion of the first phase of a two-part project, according to Christina Erickson, deputy director of Berkeley’s Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Department. Erickson said in a speech that funding for the first phase of the renovation came from Measure WW, an East Bay bond measure that provided funding to cities for park projects, and Measure F, a city measure that raised the city’s special parks tax in order to improve and maintain public spaces.
According to Traylor and Smith, the new courts were worth the 16-month wait. The boys were excited to play the first game on the renovated “little court,” a half-sized court with a lower basketball hoop.
Luckey, a Berkeley High School alumnus, said he was grateful for the renovation, and that offering the community something new was an important demonstration of the city’s efforts to take action.
“It was absolutely worth the wait. I mean look at the turnout, and it will be like this every day out here. People come out to this park religiously,” Luckey said. “It’ll definitely make an impact, from youth to older guys that grew up out here. … It’s a symbol of community.”