BY ANDREAS BUTLER
After months of renovations, a popular park in Daytona’s Black community will be open to the public again.
The City of Daytona Beach has scheduled the grand reopening of Joe Harris Park, also known as Harlem Park, for March 31 from 3 to 5 p.m. The park is located at 315 Pearl St.
“We want the community to come out and enjoy this event. We will have a very short program. We’ve really worked hard and put in some money to make the park beautiful. We want our citizens to know that the park is there for them to enjoy,” said, Deputy City Manager Betty Goodman.
The event will include a ribbon-cutting ceremony and light refreshments. The ceremony will be held in the afternoon to accommodate other city events.
“We also have the Easter Beach Run in the morning. We’ll have a lot of staff working that event as well that day,” said Deputy Public Works Director David Waller.
Residents are mostly pleased with the park’s new look.
“It’s a beautiful sight to see and a comfortable place to relax. I think children will enjoy it. It’s nice. They could still add a few more things like a roof over some picnic tables and a few grills so that they can make this a place where families can grow,” said Billy Johnson.
Saleemah Hargrow reflected, “I think it’s great, especially for the children. It’s great that they fixed it up. People need an outlet to go and relax. The park has had its history of crime so maybe more of a police presence could help with that.”
Delayed by Irma
It took nearly six months to refurbish the park with a price tag of $237,000.
“Most of that cost was due to the materials and supplies. We did most of the construction with our city crews,” noted Waller.
The project also suffered a moment of inaction.
Goodman said, “We did have a brief delay in renovations due to Hurricane Irma. It set the timetable back just a little bit. We had to do some emergency repairs.”
Park renovations include new playground equipment as well as more shrubbery, trees and plants.
“We totally redid the landscaping and really stressed the beautification of the park. We wanted to make it a beautiful place for the community,” added Goodman.
There are also more benches for sitting down along the park.
Another new feature is that the basketball courts now have two full-sized courts with a total of four goals. In the past, there were eight goals on four half sized courts.
“The thought is for us to be able to host some of our youth basketball programs out there. So, we went with full-size courts. They are high-school regulation courts. We want to engage with some of our recreation type programs to get more kids out so we stretched the courts out,” expressed Waller.
The only thing missing from the park at this time is a swing set, overhead covering for picnic tables and barbecue pits.
Goodman noted, “We can always add more features to the park in the future. There were also some residents during our input meetings in the past that advocated for no basketball courts.”
There is less parking at the revised park.
Waller explained, “We have lost a few spaces on both ends of the entry way. We took out the south side parking and turned it into a landscape space to provide a visual barrier between the recreational space and business district,” she explained.
“We moved the pet crossing in the park space to get the people out of the vehicles into the park. We wanted to define the entry points. The general aesthetics is to define where the vehicles are. It’s two side streets – Green and Walnut. We have defining points where pedestrians can define if a car is in their path.”
Still owned by city
In the past, there have been concerns about the park’s ownership. In recent years, Bethune-Cookman University was believed to have done a backroom deal with the city over the park. The university’s security personnel even locked and unlocked the park’s gates.
Daytona Beach officials assure the community that the park is city property.
Goodman told the Times, “The park is a city park.”
Joe Harris Park has a history of street basketball, cookouts, music and fun, especially during special events like Black Bike Week and Biketoberfest.
About its namesake
Originally, it was the site of dirt roads and homes. The homes there were destroyed during urban renewal in the 1970s.
The park was built and named after Joseph Harris, a prominent Black civil rights leader, politician, activist and entrepreneur.
Harris and his wife, Dufferin, were one of the most well-known power couples of their time.
Dufferin was the first Black journalist at the Daytona Beach News-Journal.
Harris and his wife also were noted for allowing Jackie Robinson to stay with them when he integrated minor league baseball in Daytona in 1946.
Joe and Dufferin Harris, now deceased, are both buried in Sunset Memorial Cemetery.