The city of North Charleston will spend $45 million to improve recreational areas in Park Circle, including $20 million to redevelop the interior of a large traffic circle that ushers drivers into the area.
Plans include replacing the Felix C. Davis community center, enhancing existing greenspace and adding a new inclusive ballfield and playground.
The playground will have special safety considerations like ramps and other elements designed to enable children of all abilities to participate, no matter their physical, cognitive, social or emotional development. It will be the city’s second inclusive playground.
Outside the circle, an additional $25 million will go toward replacing the decades-old Danny Jones Recreation Center, located less than a mile away, according to Ryan Johnson, economic development and public relations with the city of North Charleston.
Plans there call for replacing the existing pool facilities with a new indoor aquatic center.
Work is expected to be completed within the next two years, Johnson said. Funding for the project will come from tax increment financing and revenue bonds through the Noisette off-base Tax Increment Financing District.
Right now, the interior of the Park Circle traffic circle houses two baseball fields, the Felix C. Davis community center, butterfly garden and green space where farmer’s markets are held.
“The city has always wanted to make it a more active space than what it is now,” Johnson said. “The goal is to make it more of a place where families and kids go all the time, not just when there's an event like a baseball game or a community meeting. There’s talks about putting in a shed that the farmer's market can go under.”
“(It will be a) huge community improvement,” Johnson added. “I call it a ‘reimagining’ of Park Circle because it will be added amenities and everything will be enhanced inside the circle.”
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey touted the plans for the interior of Park Circle during his 2022 State of the City address in January.
“Standing today is a building with much community significance and grounds where many have attended events and participated in athletics,” Summey stated in his address. “Our vision is a new state-of-the-art community and cultural center designed for the next 50 years. A Miracle League field and large all-inclusive playground with accessibility for everyone and modern parks and outdoor spaces suitable for hosting markets and civic celebrations.”
Construction on all areas of the interior of the circle will occur concurrently, Johnson said.
Developed by Charlotte-based Cunningham Recreation, the Oak Terrace Preserve playground has wide ramps leading onto playground equipment for wheelchairs, musical instruments like drums, a tandem swing for an adult and child to use together and several sun shades.
That playground was recently named a National Demonstration Site by the PlayCore Center for Outreach, Research and Education, a research company specializing in areas of recreation. The group will collect data from the playground to conduct research findings on its impact in the community.
In addition to the recognition, the city received matching grant funding for up to 50% of the cost of the playground structure — currently estimated at $140,000 in grant funds, according to the city.
The city of North Charleston stated on its website that the Oak Terrace Preserve playground will serve as “a blueprint for other playground designs.”
Johnson said the price of the playground goes up significantly when adding inclusive amenities.
“The surface is quite expensive, as you're putting a soft, kid-friendly surface there, and it just all adds up. Unfortunately, these things aren't cheap,” Johnson said. “You can get a wheelchair up there, it's got roller slides. It's got sensory things for people or kids with autism. It takes into account sensory things, needs for people with physical and mental disabilities and tries to (offer) some type of normalcy and play for everyone. That’s the inclusive model.”
Johnson said a lot of stakeholders were involved in choosing what amenities to add to the interior of Park Circle.
“It was a team effort with staff, council and the community,” Johnson said. “I think if you visit the Oak Terrace Preserve inclusive playground, you'll see kids are out there all the time, and you can see it's well worth the investment.”