On a sunny Monday afternoon at Center Street Park, there was one kid playing in a slide on an otherwise empty playground next to a wide open baseball diamond and empty pavilion. After seeing the large park frequently empty over many years, local residents hope to make it a more useful destination for family fun.
"I see significant potential," said Dave Celata, interim president of the Friends of Center Street Park. "The fact there is an entire city block dedicated to green space creates a significant asset for the area. But at the same time, I think a lot of people recognize that it's presently underutilized."
The Friends of Center Street Park, founded earlier this year, hopes to help raise money and direct tax dollars toward improvements the community agrees upon. They are currently asking residents of both Wauwatosa and the neighboring Enderis Park community to fill out a survey about what they would like to see at the park.
Celata said the survey got more than 100 responses in the first 24 hours.
"I think that reflects the civic engagement of the area," he said.
The park is technically in the city of Milwaukee, although it is surrounded on its east, south and west borders by Wauwatosa.
Bobby Pantuso, an alderman in the area, said it would be "a dream" for Wauwatosa to somehow annex the park, but not a realistic short-term goal. For now, he hopes Milwaukee County, which operates the park, will be a helpful partner in revitalization.
"Since we have taken an interest in the park, the county has taken an interest," Pantuso said.
Celata said improvements could come from a combination of county resources and work by the Friends group to raise money and organize activities.
"They face an uphill battle when it comes to growing need with decreasing resources," Celata said of the County Parks Department. "We do see moving forward with the county continuing to provide resources and support for the park, but our hope is the Friends group and other stakeholders can step up and fill in the gaps."
First, they need to know where to focus their efforts.
"The biggest thing we need is to figure out what people want us to focus on, and then we can stick out a fundraising goal," Pantuso said.
The survey includes a list of 17 features, from which residents are asked to select their five top priorities. They include ball fields, beautification, a dog park, a putting range, splash pads and a seasonal ice rink.
Celata said he hopes to get responses from both Wauwatosa and Milwaukee residents and has worked with the neighborhood association for Enderis Park to reach more people.
"A lot of those that have been involved have been in East Tosa," Celata said. "We want to be very intentional that this isn't just an East Tosa initiative."
The Friends group will be collecting survey responses until Aug. 11 at centerstreetpark.com.
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