Super park tapped for $4 million project; amphitheater, adaptive field proposed

This aerial shot provided by the city using a drone shows the new all-inclusive playground at Lon C. Hill. The official dedication of the Amalie "Amy" L. Koppel All-Inclusive Playground will be June 11, but work is progressing and the playground could open earlier. Courtesy photo

HARLINGEN — Blueprints are calling for a $4 million project to build an amphitheater, walking trail and athletic field for children with special needs at the super park shaping up in the heart of town.

The latest project would fund the first major features to rise from the destination park whose $3.3 million first phase is nearing completion.

Now, members of the Harlingen Community Improvement Board, funded through an eighth-cent sales tax earmarked for so-called quality-of-life projects, are standing behind the new project, Chairman Jesse Robles said Monday.

“The board feels really good about it,” he said. “The board is proceeding accordingly with this project. We have to keep planning for the future.”

Last month, board members called for a 60-day public comment period to give residents a chance to comment on the proposal.

Aiming for tourist dollars

For about four years, officials have been planning the destination park with an overall price tag of about $8 million, billed as a premier outdoor entertainment venue expected to draw tourist dollars to town.

At City Hall, City Manager Dan Serna is counting on the park to help drive sales tax revenue, drawing out-of-town visitors who’ll dine at local restaurants and shop in town.

“We like the idea it has an economic feature,” Robles said. “Our mentality has always been to draw families and visitors. It’s close to the shopping areas by the convention center and Bass Pro (Shops.)”

Big proposed features

The proposed $1.5 million amphitheater would become the project’s “anchor,” Parks Director Javier Mendez said.

The theater would help draw thousands to the park, Serna said.

“It’s the premier park for Harlingen,” Robles said. “It’s going to have a lot of features — a lot of amenities.”

The park will offer a venue to help residents live healthier lives in the region plagued with high rates of obesity, diabetes and hypertension.

The proposed $761,900 adaptive field featuring synthetic turf would serve children with special needs, complimenting the park’s all-inclusive playground, Serna said.

Meanwhile, the proposed $89,000 lighted walking trail would run from Casa de Amistad to Harlingen Field, Robles said.

“We believe walking trails are very successful and popular in the city,” he said. “The surrounding area can benefit from that.”

First phase nears completion

The plan to develop a destination park ranks among the top priorities in the city’s new 10-year comprehensive plan.

Last December, city leaders broke ground on the park’s $3.3 million first phase expected to be completed by the end of the month, Serna said.

A tall, arched gateway will be opening into the super park featuring game courts.

Now, crews are busy touching up the super park’s first phase, including a $279,025 entry court featuring an entrance made up of a sprawling archway looming over stone columns.

Opening into a $554,545 center plaza, the park’s first phase will showcase a large pavilion and a lighted water fountain with a 52-foot diameter.

The first phase will also feature $587,957 worth of winding walkways leading to a pavilion, gazebo and restrooms.

Grant funding

In 2017, city commissioners scrapped plans to borrow money to fund the park’s construction.

Now, officials are planning to use cash and grants to fund its proposed future phases.

So far, a $1 million Texas Parks and Wildlife Department grant has helped fund the project.

As he helped break ground on the project, state Rep. Oscar Longoria, D-Mission, said the park’s all-inclusive playground helped land the grant.

“We’re doing it prudently,” Robles said, referring to the project’s funding. “We’re looking for grants wherever they are.”