Lorna Doone Park is closed for construction. When it reopens, it's 'going to be on par with Lake Eola Park'
Orlando Sentinel - 6/5/2019
June 04-- Jun. 4--When Tangia Smikle was growing up in West Lakes, she could walk to Lorna Doone Park to play with other kids from surrounding neighborhoods.
She said she's raised her daughter MyLynn in the same home she grew up in, but her daughter wasn't able to play in the park across the street. MyLynn, 19, is on the autism spectrum, has mild cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus from excess fluid in the brain. She's had a dozen brain surgeries.
"I just got very angry that I couldn't walk to the park that was right in front of my home and share the memories I had," Tangia Smikle said. "It just didn't seem fair."
But soon parents of special-needs children will have a safe place their kids can play. More than $8 million in renovations to the park are planned including the city's first playground designed for special-needs children, as well as Orlando's first splash pad.
The park is officially closed and eventually will include the removal of a section of Rio Grande Avenue that cuts through the middle of the park. The work also will include a nature path named for Winnie Palmer, and another amenity is in the works to be named for Arnold Palmer. The park is due to reopen late next spring.
Funding came from a variety of sources, with the city being the largest contributor, dedicating $5 million to the park. Florida Citrus Sports kicked in an additional $3 million.
"This is going to be on par with Lake Eola Park," Mayor Buddy Dyer said.
At a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday at the park, MyLynn grabbed the microphone to thank city officials, donors and others involved with the project.
"When I was a little girl, I could not play in this park at all," she said.
Over the years, tennis and basketball courts had become worn, and the park had begun a frequent gathering place for the homeless.
The Orlando Magic have agreed to build a set of basketball courts there for pickup games, and the Orlando Utilities Commission is building a solar pavilion. The park also will have a community garden.
The 12-acre park sits next to Camping World Stadium, home to well-attended college football bowl matchups, large concerts and other events like Wrestlemania and Monster Jam. The stadium underwent a $207 million renovation four years ago and is line for another $60 million in upgrades.
But when the stadium draws big crowds, a new park on a scenic lake becomes an additional amenity where pre-game festivities can occur, Dyer said.
A statue is also planned to honor the park's place in history. In 1955, Lorna Doone Park also hosted the first integrated Little League baseball game in the south, when the Orlando Kiwanis Little Leaguers defeated the Pensacola JayCees, a team of black boys, 5-0.
Commissioner Regina Hill recalled meeting up at the park with kids from other neighborhoods to compete in swimming and volleyball and also for a free lunch from the city.
Hill had been involved in talks for revitalizing the park since before she was elected to the City Council six years ago. She credited the neighborhoods for coming up with plans for a park she's long said will be the "jewel of the west side."
"They were wondering when will it be our turn?" Hill said. "I just think it's something they can be proud of and know the city hasn't forgotten about them."
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