By COURTNEY CONWAY / Indy Parks public information officer
Tucked away on the Near Northwest side of Indianapolis, Watkins Park has long been a place of fun and refuge for people of all ages. For decades, families have come to the park to enjoy lunch at a picnic shelter, climb around on the playground, or just relax for an afternoon underneath the city’s skyline. The park has been a destination for young athletes wanting to practice their skills, with basketball courts, football fields, baseball fields, and tennis courts easily accessible.
The Watkins Park Family Center was built in 1939, and over the years, it has started showing its age. With peeling paint and outdated equipment, the space hasn’t been as functional as it once was, and we are grateful to our partners at Citizens Energy Group for seeing the potential in the aging facility.
Watkins Park was selected as the site of the latest Sharing the Dream project, which is an initiative created by Citizens to honor the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Each January, the company and hundreds of Citizens employees come together with partners to refurbish an Indy Parks facility. The family center has been closed since mid-December as the renovations have been completed, and we are thrilled to be able to invite the public inside.
“Our parks system is here for the community. We are always thinking of ways to make everyone feel welcome and at home in our parks,” said Phyllis Boyd, director of Indy Parks. “The upgrades to the Watkins Park Family Center will enhance the experience people have in this facility, and we could not be more excited to open it up to the public.”
Throughout the two-day event, Citizens employee volunteers and partners collectively donated hundreds of hours of their time to install new security cameras, LED lighting, and audio-visual equipment. Walls throughout the facility were coated in fresh paint, and new furniture was wheeled in. Needed repairs were made to the restrooms, and a storage room was transformed into a reception area, increasing the possibilities for programming and events that can be hosted in the space. The improvements were not confined to the inside of the family center. Outside the front doors, an access ramp was replaced, and updates to the exterior landscaping can be easily seen by anyone driving by.
Citizens President and CEO Jeffrey Harrison said, “Year after year, Citizens employees and our partners dedicate time and talent to refreshing Indy Parks facilities through Sharing the Dream. This year, we are proud to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. through the transformation of the Watkins Park Family Center, a mainstay of the vibrant Near Northwest Community.”
“I was so thrilled to see this project come together,” said Jennifer Mentink, Citizens Sharing the Dream coordinator and neighborhood ambassador. “I hope the neighbors, including the dedicated group of seniors who gather to exercise throughout the week, feel safe and welcomed when they visit the center.”
The new family center at Watkins Park reopened to the community on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 17, with a community open house. Neighbors were given the chance to tour the facility and see the improvements firsthand. Mayor Joe Hogsett was able to view the upgrades, where he reflected on the contributions Citizens has made to the park’s neighbors through this project.
“There’s nothing more important to the quality of place and the quality of life that the residents of Indianapolis enjoy than our parks. Parks bring people together,” said Mayor Hogsett. “Watkins Park is in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in all of Indianapolis. Rehabbing this Family Center will serve so many families, not just in this neighborhood, but throughout the city.”
This spring, Watkins Park staff will open the doors to the family center for a variety of programs, welcoming in community members of all ages. We are sure that the upgrades made to the facility will benefit park neighbors for years to come.
PHOTO ABOVE: The Watkins Park family center underwent a major renovation during the recently completed project.