A much-needed park long in the works for San Diego’s Logan Heights community is just about ready to open to the public -- a safe space to be enjoyed by local families.
The idea for the Gilliam Family Community Garden and Park came about more than a year-and-a-half ago.
Organizers with Bame Community Development Corporation (CDC) in Logan Heights found a vacant space on Imperial Avenue, between 28th and 29th streets. They contacted the owner of that space, Derrick Gilliam, and asked to transform the site into a safe place where people who live in the area could meet up, and feel like they belong.
Gilliam donated the 5,000-square-foot space to the community for five years.
But there was much work to be done.
“It was all covered with trash. It was really like an eyesore. So basically we're turning it into a neighborhood beautification project,” explained Paige Newman, Community and Economic Development Coordinator with BAME CDC.
Bame partnered with Space 4 Art and asked for input from the community on how to best utilize the space.
Newman said those planning meetings brought the community closer together.
“[They] brought people together, by collecting input from children, adults, residents, and non-residents as to what everybody wanted to see in this space,” she said.
Now, residents, including Elizabeth Rodriguez, are looking forward to seeing the end result.
Rodriguez said she moved to Logan Heights for its affordable housing and sense of community. She thinks the park will improve the quality of life in the neighborhood.
“There's a diverse race of people here, and ages of people here,” she told NBC 7. “The sense of community when you're here, you really feel like part of a family. People walk the streets, they talk to each other. They get to know each other.”
Rodriguez, who also volunteered to help with the project, said money to build the park came from grants, private donations, businesses, and even tip jars placed at local businesses.
Hundreds of people, from students to community groups to neighbors, have helped to clean up the abandoned space and built the fixtures.
The centerpiece is a three-story treehouse.
It was designed by artists at Space 4 Art and built by students at King-Chávez Community High School in downtown and High Tech High in Chula Vista.
“It ties to the horizontal maze, which is the only way you can enter into the treehouse,” explained Space 4 Art co-founder Bob Leathers. “This is unique to Logan Heights.”
The artists and students are also building shade trees, using recycled materials like bicycle wheels and telephone poles.
“They have learned how important recycling is and have learned what it means to be resourceful when you can't afford to buy the big shade trees that cost over $1,000,” said Leathers.
Leathers said the students learned a lot about structure and design while working on the project, and also something else that's equally important.
"Old-fashioned stick with-it-ness,” he said, “That they in fact had the perseverance to do the whole thing and put all those together.”
They also built an outdoor amphitheater, with seating for 120 people and picnic tables on the side.
Over the next several weeks, volunteers will finish up the teaching gardens, where families can learn about drought-tolerant plants and how to grow vegetables.
“The key is to empower residents,” said Newman. “They can learn how to garden and then they can take that into their homes, and if they like to, design a small garden in their homes, and possibly sell the produce.”
Leathers said because the space is on private property and all the fixtures are temporary, they were able to bypass some of the city permits that would be needed for permanent structures.
Also, everything inside the park can be taken apart and moved after the lease expires in five years.
The Gilliam Family Community Garden and Park is set to open in January 2016.