Commentary: Stadium plan could be a ‘game-changer’ for Franklin Park

A youngster looked out at a flooded-out playing field at Franklin Park’s Playstead on March 29.
Franklin Park Coalition/Mike Carpentier photo

The Franklin Park Coalition (FPC) believes that the White Stadium renovation project has the potential to elevate our park by restoring a crumbling edifice and bringing new investments to a long-neglected area of this historic greenspace. We are advocating with the city to ensure that community concerns are addressed and pressing for positive outcomes for the park: new landscape investments, community access and resources, and a world-class stadium for Boston’s student athletes.

FPC’s recent survey generated more than 700 responses with many thoughtful comments. Support for the project among park users will be high if concerns are addressed. Both the city and Boston Unity Soccer Partners (BUSP) have work to do: Identifying transportation and parking solutions; making sure community park activities are not disrupted; protecting the park’s natural landscape; and bringing community benefits and jobs to those most impacted. To date, they have shown they are eager to engage and work with community members for the best outcome.

Renovation of the stadium has the potential to be a game-changer for Franklin Park. Currently, the northern edge of the park, bordering Roxbury (Egleston and Grove Hall) suffers from decades of neglect. Abandoned bear cages, covered in graffiti with dangers galore and surrounded by invasive-strewn woodlands, hover on the cliffs above Seaver Street. A magnificent staircase and beautiful patchwork stones center the site, which is ripe for restoration.

The Overlook ruins, formerly one of the only buildings designed by landscape creator Frederick Law Olmsted, sit waiting for restoration. Early investments from the city are funding initial work at these important historic sites. Both of these priority restoration projects will benefit from investment that the Stadium renovation can bring.

We hope and expect the professional sports team will help fix the potholed, eroded paths and the flooded playing field near the Stadium. The basketball courts that were once filled with local teens are now often empty, the nets and court surface so badly degraded that play is barely possible. Done right, this project could restore courts, picnic areas, playing fields, and walking paths that draw in community users and lift up our park.

Requiring no advocacy on the community’s part, the planned “Grove” area of the Stadium, open to the public, promises to be a wonderful gathering space for outdoor movies in the summer and possibly ice skating in the winter. Complete with refreshment options and public restrooms, the Grove will enhance our park community, bring year-round jobs, and offer more fun ways to enjoy the park.

We are actively engaging with the City, BPS, and BUSP to ensure that neighborhood and park user needs are met and to bring the White Stadium project in alignment with the Franklin Park Action Plan. Make no mistake, there is work ahead. But the City has already helped by bringing all planning under one roof, scheduling special transportation workshops for each neighborhood, and listening to the many concerns and recommendations resulting from our survey.

Of utmost importance will be a governance structure for the park and the Stadium. We need, and have always needed, a stronger mechanism to coordinate among park institutions, maintenance and management entities, public safety agencies, and all those running programs or hosting barbecues in the park. The City has jumpstarted that with the promise of hiring a Franklin Park Administrator dedicated to such coordination.

The Franklin Park Coalition’s diverse leadership and members are longtime park users and residents of the adjacent park neighborhoods (Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan, Jamaica Plain, and Roslindale). An important part of our mission is to uplift all voices, including the vast majority who cannot make time for public meetings. Our survey of more than 700 park users from every neighborhood surrounding the park is a more comprehensive statement of prevailing sentiments about the White Stadium renovation project than we have seen so far. FPC is grateful for the depth and breadth of input from so many park users; their responses offer an important path forward as we advocate for the park and our community.

Rickie Thompson is the board president and Sandy Bailey is the vice-president of the Franklin Park Coalition.

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