Share this article

print logo

A splash for Juneteenth?; City prodded on accelerating park project for use at festival

A community activist wants the City of Buffalo to accelerate a $4.5 million park project so at least a portion can be used during a popular June festival.

Samuel A. Herbert is asking city officials for an update on their progress on what will be an all-season water attraction at Martin Luther King Jr. Park and to try to have the refurbished splash pad open for the Juneteenth Festival. He wants answers at a community meeting Tuesday night.

"I know we can have this operative for Juneteenth," said Herbert, who heads the Coalition to Save Martin Luther King Park and who has been attending meetings with the city and its contractors at the project site every other week.

City officials aren't committing to anything at this point but say they do have a "very aggressive schedule."

"We're doing everything possible to make that thing happen as fast as possible," Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak said Sunday.

The project will take what was once only a splash pad and give it the ability to be a year-round facility -- an ice rink in the winter and a reflecting pool in the spring and fall, as well as a splash pad in the summer.

It's a massive concrete replacement job, and since last year, the city has said the project would be done July 1 of this year.

Stepniak said that about 80 percent of the project is expected to be completed by the time of the Juneteenth Festival, which is June 16-17.

At that time, officials will assess the status of the project and see if anything could be opened for use by the public, though safety factors would be of utmost consideration, Stepniak said.

City officials and representatives of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy held a news conference Sept. 8 announcing the start of construction on the project, which included the awarding of a $3 million contract to Man O' Trees of West Seneca.

But Herbert contends that more work could have been done last fall when the weather was generally favorable.

Herbert has called a community meeting on the topic from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Frank E. Merriweather Jr. Library, 1324 Jefferson Ave.

He has invited Mayor Byron W. Brown, Common Council Majority Leader Demone A. Smith, who represents the Masten District where the park is located, as well as other city officials and representatives of firms working on the project.

Though Herbert has ramped up his outlook, last year he was taking a different tack.

When officials closed the splash pad all of last summer, Herbert urged park users to give the project time.

"I'm satisfied with the plan, because I know it's going to take a little time," Herbert told The Buffalo News last June. "The community should be patient, because something magnificent is coming to Martin Luther King Park."

Herbert was asked last week why his stance has changed.

"Patience on any project is a virtue, but as you begin to see activity, you still want to know what's going on," Herbert said.

Stepniak attributed the questions about the project to the community's excitement, adding that crews could begin pouring concrete this week.