Previously resembling a concrete bunker, Penn Park’s renovated open-air shelter is scheduled to open this spring and aims to foster a more welcoming space for the community.
Now home to the Southside Raiders youth football and cheerleading program, Penn Park was originally developed as a private baseball field complex in the late 1940s by Cliff Penn, owner of Penn Electric Company. Penn donated the park to the city in the early 1950s, and the city built the previous shelter and restroom facilities about a decade later.
The seven-acre park is located at 2101 Fisher St., across from the Dane County Boys and Girls Club and One City Schools. The park has been closed for construction during 2017, and the renovated shelter is expected to open in late May.
“There’s a lot of history in that park,” said Michael Johnson, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club. “It looks a million times better, and I’m really proud of it and I think our kids in this neighborhood can be proud of it.”
The city budgeted $1.5 million in the 2016 capital budget to address infrastructure needs and increase utilization of the park. In addition to renovating the 4,000 square-foot shelter canopy, the city is adding a new restroom and concessions building, a 0.3-mile walking loop around the park perimeter, bike parking and landscape planting beds. Other improvements include replacing the parking lot and and athletic field maintenance.
Changes to the shelter include removing concrete barriers and adding new shelter lights, which Bram’s Addition Neighborhood Officer Amanda Analla said improve safety by increasing visibility.
“A couple times when I would do foot patrol, there would be people gambling or drinking in the corner,” Analla said. “Now when I drive through the neighborhood, I can look and see the whole shelter.”
Penn Park is heavily used by area residents and considered a “valued green space,” Madison Parks Division spokeswoman Ann Shea said. In 2016, there were 151 reservations at the park.
The park is also used to host large events such as Juneteenth, church services and picnics, family reunions and Raiders practices and games.
In addition to the city’s investment in infrastructure improvements, the Madison Community Foundation is supporting park amenities with a $70,000 grant in an initiative called Penn Park Pride.
“What we wanted to do was say, ‘How does the park get used?’” said Tom Linfield, Madison Community Foundation’s vice president of community impact. “That’s really where we saw potential. We could build off the city’s investment.”
The grant will be used to install 15 engraved wooden picnic tables in the park, purchase new equipment and permanent signage for the Raiders and a trailer, generator and sound system for community events and activities. Additionally, the grant will fund two internships through the Boys & Girls Club to facilitate renting recreation equipment and promote bicycle use and repair.
Linfield said he can envision how area residents will use the park, but it will ultimately be shaped by the community.
“We have an idea and the community leaders have an idea of what this could be, but people will make it what they want to make it and they'll always surprise you,” Linfield said.