Jeremy Ogul | Editor
Three times a week, Anita Bookhart brings her five-year-old daughter to play at Collier Park on Palm Avenue. Bookhart has fond memories of her own childhood experiences at the park. Sometimes, though, it just doesn’t feel safe.
“Sometimes it’ll be a certain crowd down here and I won’t even come,” she said.
Bookhart, who lives just up the hill, said she has occasionally witnessed people drinking, doing drugs or engaging in other illegal behavior.
“It’s not a comfortable feeling, especially when you have your child and want them to be able to run around,” she said.
Collier Park has a reputation in the neighborhood for being a hangout for transients, drunks and drug users, but La Mesa’s city leaders are hoping to change that with a new master plan to renovate and transform the park.
The City Council voted in February to approve the final environmental impact report that clears the way for major changes to the park.
The first phase of upgrades would include wheelchair-accessible pathways, three new playgrounds for different age groups, two gazebos, a new restroom building and a new park entry feature, said Bill Chopyk, the city’s community development director.
The plan’s second phase would renovate the park’s underutilized hillsides. The city envisions removing the top of the hill on the north side of the park to make room for a clubhouse, parking lot and more amenities, such as space for an oversized chessboard. The hill on the east side of the park could be re-landscaped and graded to create an amphitheater space.
The city also plans to mothball the Spring House, a historic structure built by David C. Collier in 1907 as part of a business that bottled the natural spring water that flows through the park. The Spring House has been deteriorating for decades, but mothballing it will help preserve it until it can be rehabilitated, Chopyk said.
The city has not identified a funding source for any of the renovations in the new master plan, but Chopyk said the completed environmental documents should make it easier for the city to win grants that would provide funding for the renovations.
“I think everyone’s going to be happy with what Collier Park has the potential to become,” said Mayor Mark Arapostathis.
Kurt Stormberg, an orthodontist who owns the office building just south of the park, said the city’s plans for the park will be a great for the neighborhood.
“I think it’s a part of La Mesa that’s been ignored for quite a while and it would be nice to have this done,” he said.
In addition to bringing new amenities to the park, the renovations will also help raise property values for the owners of nearby homes and commercial buildings, he said.
“When you have a park that isn’t infested with gangs and homeless people and drugs, as it has been in the past… you start seeing families coming back,” Stormberg said.
One thing that has helped change the park already is the growing popularity of pickleball, a ball-and-paddle game that attracts players to the park on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. The city recently resurfaced the tennis court, making it more palatable to both pickleball and tennis players. Nearby schools have also recently begun to bring children to play at the park in the mornings.
Across the street, a new 60-unit apartment complex called Palm Terrace is about to open. Already, it seems, the construction activity has had an impact on who feels comfortable hanging out at the park.
“[The] development is helping the park from the standpoint that it has eyes on it,” said Christopher D’Avignon, whose Land & Design firm sold the property to Silvergate Development, which is building the apartments.
Park fees the city collects from the new apartments could also contribute some of the money needed to renovate the park, D’Avignon.
Benjamin Baker, a construction superintendent who has been working on the apartment project, recently brought his two-year-old son to the playground. While he has seen people drinking at the park, Baker said it is not enough of a problem to deter him from visiting.
“I think [the park is] big enough that you don’t get that feeling,” he said.
For details on the city’s plans, visit cityoflamesa.com/index.aspx?NID=1234, or search the city’s website for “Collier Park Renovations Project.”
—Reach Jeremy Ogul by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction (Feb. 28, 2015): This article has been updated to clarify that Silvergate Development, not Land & Design, is developing the new apartments.