Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke speaks Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017, during the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Southside Community Park in Chattanooga, Tenn. The park completes the transformation of the long-vacant site to a gathering place for the neighborhood.

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Southside Community Park opens

After years of planning, Southside Community Park stands ready for people to meet and play.

On Wednesday, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and District 7 Councilman Erskine Oglesby joined neighborhood stakeholders to celebrate the transformation of the former site of the Charles A. Bell Elementary School.

"It's been a long time coming," Berke said at the park's pavilion, complete with checkerboard tables and seats. "It only happened because of the power and the strength of the people who stand behind me and the leadership that made sure it happened over the course of the last several years."

The site, often described as an eyesore, sat dormant for nearly 30 years. The school closed in 1989 and was demolished six years ago. Berke put $1 million toward transforming the property into a park in the city's fiscal 2015 capital budget.

Berke and others credited Alton Park resident Rosemary Porter as a key driving force who brought neighbors hands-on into the process of deciding what the park ought to look like.

"This is a dream come true for us," Porter said. "We have been working on this for about four years."

Porter thanked the South Chattanooga Leadership Advisory Council and residents of the communities of Piney Woods and Oak Hill for their dedication and hard work. She credited Chris Anderson, who served as the Southside's councilman until this spring, for working with them "diligently" throughout the process.

"This park is unique," Anderson said. "It's 100 percent driven by what the residents wanted the park to look like, not what the city wanted it to look like."

Oglesby credited Anderson and the Southside residents for getting the park to this point.

"This park is a testament to what happens when neighbors get together with one common goal, and that's just to make our community better," he said. "This park means creating a healthy environment for families and kids to come and play and enjoy themselves and a family friendly area."

However, this is just the beginning, because it will show people what a great place the Southside truly is, Oglesby said.

"This is going to be a spot that's going to draw people from around the city and around the country," he said. "This park is going to spur business development, because as you bring people in, you're going to need resources to accommodate them."

Oglesby announced the park will host the South Chattanooga Barbecue Contest this Saturday.

Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or Follow him on Twitter @pleach_tfp.

This story was updated Aug. 23 at 11:20 p.m. with more information.