Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2012, 7:56 pm

Let's bring Douglas Park to life again

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By John Marx, jmarx@qconline.com

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert
Chris Carmack and Rock Island 1st Ward Ald. Terry Brooks stand near the Morgan Park baseball field in Rock Island on Monday, Dec. 10, 2012. Ald. Brooks and Mr. Carmack would like to see the park and fields restored.
Photo: Submitted
The staff at Euclid Beverage, which distributes to local outlets, and the U.S. Marines continued the tradition for Toys for Tots. Euclid staffers have helped gather more than $5,000 in donations ($25,000 for the past three years), as well as 12,000 pounds of food for local pantries for the past three years. Lance Cpl. Sean Patterson of the Marines is flanked by Euclid staffers, from left, Doug Painter, Jason Davis, Pat Rangel, John Ricco and Roger VanDeHeede after a recent Toys for Tots donation.
Turning to fend off a raw December wind, Rock Island Ald. Terry Brooks refused to see tattered bleachers and rusted fencing.

For a moment, he was a youngster again as he recalled nights he watched family and friends play baseball at Douglas Park, a historic Rock Island landmark. He remembered how the park was a focal point and gathering place for families citywide.

It has been many years since Douglas Park was a vibrant gathering place of any kind, but Ald. Brooks wants to change that.

It should be noted that Ald. Brooks is not naive enough to believe the reclamation of Douglas Park will be easy. You do not fix years of neglect overnight. But he knows that with a push here, some real dedication there, Douglas Park can again be a showplace, a multi-use facility that would shine brightly in the city's western sector.

I agree, provided there is a long-term and sustainable plan that does not become a burden on taxpayers. Whitewater Junction, the city's aquatic center, is proof that the old -- Longview Park in this case -- can mix with the new and be successful.

"It pains me to stand here and see such a wonderful place in the shape it is in,'' Ald. Brooks said, walking about the park. "The historical side alone -- Jim Thorpe playing here, professional football and then world-class softball -- should make it worth saving. But there is more here, lots more. I see a multi-use facility serving all ages and people not just in Rock Island, but from outside the area. It can be vibrant again.''

The road to saving Douglas Park, however, has been traveled before.

Four years ago, plans were in place to refurbish the site and turn it into a multi-use complex. The plans called for several baseball fields, a soccer field, concessions and a play area. The hope was to bring to life youth baseball and create a place for other sports to flourish as well.

The project, which gained steam in its early stages, eventually died in the planning stages. Thing is, no one knows just where and how the project faded.

"That was then, but this is going to be different,'' Ald. Brooks said. "There is a committee in place to chase this. We'll see where it was last time and use that as a starting point. I'll be heading to Springfield in January to see where we stand, but will go with plenty of information. We'll need help from the private sector as well, but this can be done. This place can be vital again.''

Whether you are a fan of Rock Island's planned Walmart shopping complex or not, you have to admit the city is attempting to energize its 11th Street corridor. A youth sports complex with an adult baseball field included -- at 9th Street and 18th Avenue -- would be a great spot to start that revitalization.

I am biased, having spent much of my youth -- and a large share of my 20s, 30s and early 40s -- watching and playing baseball at Douglas Park. Ald. Brooks' vision has substance, purpose, and the right people in the lead. It can work, and it would be a boon to the city if all pieces fall into place.

Unlike last time, though, the ball cannot be dropped -- not even for a second.



Columnist John Marx can be reached at (309) 757-8388 or jmarx@qconline.com.