Weeks before elected city and county government officials and workers joined Alton Park residents to clean up the old 45th Street park, city attorneys filed court papers to sell the property for industrial use.
“(The) city would like to sell the property for economic development reasons,” the court documents state. “The property can be developed for industry, thereby creating additional jobs in the community for an economically depressed area.”
City officials filed the action April 4, less than eight weeks before the May 21 cleanup. They did so because of deed restrictions requiring that the land be used only as a public park.
And that was how it was used for some four decades, until city officials closed it.
A.M. Rollins, who died in 1936, and Mollie K. Rollins, who died in 1946, deeded the property to the city of Alton Park in 1927. Alton Park since has been incorporated into Chattanooga. In the deed, however, the Rollinses restricted the property to being used only as a park.
City officials have listed the Rollins’ known and unknown surviving heirs as defendants on the court documents and are asking the heirs to remove the deed restriction.
Howard Wood, a great-grandson who still lives in Chattanooga, said he didn’t respond to the city’s notification because the letter stated if the heirs didn’t respond in a certain number of days, the city would do what it wants with the property. He said he didn’t object to the land being sold.
“I don’t think anybody is going to respond,” Wood said. “I think they’re just going to let it play out and the city can do what they want to.”
A meeting place
Rosemary Porter, an Alton Park resident for more than 50 years, said she remembers the park being the community meeting place for family reunions, picnics, neighborhood meetings and get-togethers from the 1960s until 2002.
That’s when the city closed the park and the gym and directed people to the new South Chattanooga Recreation Center about a mile away.
Before the recent cleanup, bushes sprouted from cracks in the concrete on the tennis court at the former park. Wooden planks with nails lay in high grass where youths played baseball.
Then on May 21 about 70 residents, city employees, police officers, firefighters and health department officials came with lawn mowers, snacks, gloves and wheelbarrows. By the time they finished, the park’s grass had been mowed, new dirt covered the infield so kids could play ball, and lumber and other debris from the dilapidated Alton Park Recreation Center had been removed.
“When we left the park was manicured,” said Dr. Eleanora Woods, executive director of the Alton Park Development Corp. “The practice field looked like it was ready for a team to practice.”
Work still needed
She said work is still needed on the field. The playground equipment needs to be repaired or replaced, but they’ve made a start, she said.
The city is aware that Alton Park residents want to reclaim the land for a park, said Richard Beeland, spokesman for Mayor Ron Littlefield, but the community also is aware that the city has no money to improve the park.
The city Parks and Recreation Department “has done a little work on the field, and they will continue to address some of the needs on the field as the summer continues, but it is not a part of our Parks and Rec Department,” Beeland said.
‘So much potential’
Residents still are persistent in their request for the park.
The problem is, while the 45th Street park was the center of the Alton Park community in the past, the new recreation center is too far to walk for small children, Porter said.
“We want easy accessible ways for our children to get recreation and enjoyment,” Porter said. “That’s good land, and it has so much potential because it’s been a park before and we would like to see it revitalized.”
She said any company that buys the land probably won’t hire Alton Park residents anyway.
“Jobs won’t be for people who live here,” said Porter. “They’ll get people from North Georgia, Alabama and everywhere else.”
The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department is trying to help residents clean the land. The agency used money from its $360,000 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant to organize the South Chattanooga Leadership Advisory Committee, which is advocating for the park, and do the park cleanup.
Results are expected within the next month for soil samples that the state took at the park, said John Bilderback, Step ONE Program manager at the health department. If the results indicate the soil is free of contamination, the department will work with residents to develop fundraisers and help the community reach its goals, Bilderback said.
The old Alton Park Recreation Center on the park property is already known to contain asbestos.
Vincent Lord’s mother, Nancy Lord, is among those listed as a Rollins heir. Vincent Lord said his 94-year-old mother is in rehab in Pennsylvania after fracturing her femur. But he said she had expressed to him her concern about Alton Park residents having a park.
“My mom is concerned that people out there have a place to use, and I expressed that to the city,” Lord said. He said he’s not against the sale of the land, but if the city sells it, he wants the city to provide the community another park with some of the profits.
Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...