Park could become destination for visitors, locals alike

HARLINGEN — Lon C. Hill Park could turn into what officials call a regional attraction.

In a meeting Wednesday, city commissioners approved a master plan to develop the home of the annual Freedom Fest celebration into a “destination park.”

The plan calls for the transformation of Harlingen Field — the longtime home of the defunct Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings — into a large concert venue.

“We believe it will become a destination park and visitors will come from other areas to this park,” City Manager Dan Serna told city commissioners.

Serna said the city’s parks board used the new 10-year plan to select the project as one its top five priorities.

The park will feature a $400,000 “all-inclusive playground” focusing on special needs children.

“The concept for this park is really fantastic,” Mayor Chris Boswell said. “It’s something that doesn’t exist in our community or maybe any city in the Valley.”

As part of the project, the Harlingen school district will earmark $200,000 to help build the playground.

Last year, voters approved a 10-cent property tax increase allowing the district to build two playgrounds for special needs children.

The city plans to build a second all-inclusive playground at Pendleton Park.

The school district plans to use the playground as a type of “classroom” for its special needs students, Superintendent Arturo Cavazos said.

“It allows children with special needs to get on and be social with other children,” Serna said in an interview. “The playground will no longer be restrictive.”

Cavazos said special needs students will take field trips to the playground to better develop social skills and build motor and sensory skills.

“We want the school district to have complete access as part of its program for special needs kids,” Serna said.

The park also will feature an amphitheater, pavilions, a lighted walking trail and a children’s museum doubling as a venue to exhibit local artists’ works.

Officials are working on a cost estimate, said Javier Mendez, the city’s parks director.

Mendez said he does not have a construction timetable.