The City of Boston Parks Department held its first meeting to discuss the rehabilitation plans for American Legion Playground last Tuesday night. While some are excited over the prospect of getting a newly renovated field at the historic baseball diamond, others seemed miffed that the city wants to design a multiuse space that includes a soccer field.
Since 2008, the city has appropriated anywhere from $2 to $3 million to redesign and construct new courts, playgrounds and bleachers at the park known locally as the City Yards.
Parks Department official, Scott Dupuis, said at the meeting that the Mayor’s office had received numerous phone calls from residents asking that a soccer field be built somewhere in the community to meet the demand of soccer play in Eastie. With $2.3 million already appropriated for the American Legion Playground, the city saw it as an opportunity to finally build a proper soccer field in the neighborhood to address this need. The site would also include softball field, basketball courts and playground space.
Some residents at last week’s meeting expressed disappointment that American Legion Playground, which was allowed to fall into disrepair over the past decade, would lose its identity as Eastie’s premier baseball diamond that was once home turf for East Boston High School, semipro baseball teams and East Boston Little League decades ago.
One resident suggested that American Legion Playground be restored back to its original glory as a baseball diamond and make East Boston Stadium a multiuse soccer/football destination. The city is currently in the process of completing a million dollar project there and soccer is regularly played at the Stadium in a designated soccer area behind the baseball field.
Others at the meeting reminded parks department officials that a soccer field was long promised as part of the redevelopment of the Public Works yard across Condor Street from American Legion Playground and asked why the field was no longer being placed there.
In 2010 the city acquired a parcel of land from NStar on Bremen Street to build the neighborhood’s new library in a land swap deal that would give the utility company a sub-service easement in the Public Works yard.
The city was able to complete the deal without spending any money because the appraised value of the NStar property on Bremen Street and the city owned property was almost identical. The close to 15,000 square foot Bremen Street property was assessed at $1.72 million while the 13,000 sq. ft. city parcel came in at $1.6 million according to Commissioner Mike Galvin, chief of Basic City Services.
At the time, NStar officials said they hoped to build a small power station on the remaining land it acquired from the city but Galvin stressed that this would have to go through the normal course of permitting and community involvement.
Also, Galvin added that NStar’s future plans for the site would in no way hinder the neighborhood’s future plans for the site, which includes a police substation, EMS garage, salt shed, and a soccer field.
Eagle Hill residents, like Vinny Ieni, want to know why the soccer field idea for the Public Works yard has been scrapped. City Councilor Sal LaMattina said he would look into it.
Also, Ieni said Eagle Hill residents should not support any plans to redevelop American Legion Playground unless those plans include a replacement field house for the historic field house the city tore down this year.
At the meeting Ieni pointed out that the city committed to restoring the field house at American Legion Playground and he and other Eagle Hill residents collected over 1,000 signatures to support the effort.
However, Ieni said sometime around 2009, the city reneged on its commitment and decided to just tear the historic building down.
“Why is it that we always get the short end of the stick?” asked Ieni. “Over at Billings Field in West Roxbury, the city got a state grant to restore the historic field house there. But over here in Eastie we get nothing.”
In the meantime, others have begun preliminary work on looking at ways to develop American Legion Playground, the Urban Wild and Public Works yard into one comprehensive open space along the Chelsea Creek.
Chris Marchi, who was instrumental in getting Massport to commit to extending the East Boston Greenway Park system from Bremen Street Park to Constitution Beach said all field sports could use more facilities but there is opportunity at American Legion Field to get it right.
“The poor existing conditions and unmet and unmanaged demand conditions that characterize East Boston’s bustling recreational athletic environment are increasingly calling for attention,” said Marchi. “But if past (and it sounds like present) planning trends continue, the city may fumble the opportunity for an inclusive, comprehensive planning process for this area.”