How community input drives design of Allen’s favorite spots to play.
A bat sweeps through the humid air hovering over home plate. A softball meets the edge with a metallic thwunk. Cheers erupt from the concrete bleachers as the player rounds first. Lights illuminate the outfield as the ball bounces into a waiting mitt.
Three years ago, this field contained nothing but corn stalks. Today, it’s the home of a community vision come to life: the sprawling, spectacular Spirit Park.
“From the softball fields to the trails to the public art, this park is truly a reflection of Allen,” said Tim Dentler, who served as Allen Parks and Recreation director for 16 years before his promotion to Assistant City Manager in August.
Public meetings, community surveys, master plans and citizen-led boards all contributed to Spirit Park’s success. It’s the same citizen-driven process now underway for the Exchange Parkway Recreation Center, to be constructed near the corner of Exchange Parkway and Ridgeview Drive.
Voters approved $16 million to build the center in a 2015 bond election. During the last year, citizens completed surveys, attended public meetings and shared their visions for the 90,000-150,000 square foot space.
“Community feedback is one of the most valuable tools we have,” said Dentler. “Input from our residents not only reveals preferences for future projects, it helps identify areas where current services could be enhanced.”
Continuous improvement is a key theme for the Parks and Recreation Department. When Allen’s annual tree lighting (now dubbed the “Holly Jolly Celebration”) moved to St. Mary Drive in 2018, visitors enjoyed new activities to celebrate the season that had been requested over the years—along with ample parking, adult beverages and food trucks. Kids and caregivers find relief from the heat thanks to a new shade structure covering the playground at Reed Park West. (More are planned for other playgrounds as funding is available.) Runners easily track their distance with new trail markers installed throughout Allen’s 65-mile system. Seniors work up a sweat nurturing home-grown produce in the new Allen Senior Recreation Center garden.
“Our goal is to build facilities, programs and experiences that engage residents at every life stage,” said Dentler. “Whether you’re 2 or 92, we know that spending time outdoors, doing physical activity and interacting with others makes life more enjoyable.”