Vol. 13, No. 7 April 6 - 19, 2000


St. James Park Improvements Show No Sign of Letting Up


n December, the St. James Recreation Center celebrated its 25th anniversary,xstjames.jpg (15154 bytes) but that wasn't the only cause to celebrate. The entire 11-acre park, located on Jerome Avenue below Kingsbridge Road in Fordham Bedford, has enjoyed expansion, renovation and renewal in the past few years, and the improvements keep coming.

St. James Park is a recreational, athletic haven that provides activities ranging from basketball to arts and crafts to after-school tutoring. The thriving green space includes six handball courts, two basketball courts, a playground, a soccer field and a program-packed community center.

With the help of the city Parks Department, the 52nd Precinct and local politicians, the popular park has made significant strides to become safer and cleaner. "I've seen the park go through ups and downs," said Fordham Bedford resident Willie Colon. "... Four summers ago someone was shot right in front of me in the handball court." Colon now comes to the park to jog, ride his bike and play handball without reservation.

Local resident Jennifer Melendez remembers a time when there was no gate around the playground and the now-green lawn was just dirt. Now, said Melendez, "It looks better, it's cleaner. When they see graffiti, they clean it up right away."

The Friends of St. James, a volunteer group, and park staffers have worked withxcolon.jpg (16476 bytes) police to get patrols beefed up at the park, said Santiago Milland, head of the volunteer group. Milland also believes the installation of fencing in 1998 was instrumental to the park's improved safety. Now, the park is locked up every night at 10 p.m. and opened at 7 a.m.

Altogether, 1998 was a good year for the park, as it also got a grant from Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer for $750,000 to renovate the tennis courts, pavement and lawn. And currently, additional funding from Ferrer, the city and from private donors is being used to renovate the community center's gym floor and were already used to develop a computer resource center and fitness rooms.

Anthony Martinez, catalyst coordinator with the Partnership for Parks, a public-private entity that singles out city parks for improvements, said all the positive changes have "put the park on the radar of local politicians, city agencies and community members."

The good news also has parkgoers optimistic about St. James this season. Bronx residents will flock to St. James Park for activities like the popular teen basketball program, for free tennis lessons for kids, and for various senior workshops. Events at the park include an egg hunt on April 23, Feast Day, when families picnic and enjoy games and music on July 22, and a spring clean-up and planting day on May 20. Year-round events also include concerts and an annual Christmas tree lighting.

And park workers and volunteers keep adding more to the agenda. Brenda Beal, a member of the Friends of St. James, who was designated Bronx volunteer of the month by the Parks Department, is plotting to bring movies and concerts to the park this summer. "[The park] is continuing to grow," Beal said. "It's growing more and getting better every day."

Get Involved

**  To find out about programs and activities at the St. James Park and Recreation Center, call 882-4271.
**  To join the Friends of St. James Park or find about other volunteer opportunities, call Anthony Martinez, catalyst coordinator at 430-1864, or call Vanessa K. Irizarry Gaud, St. James Park outreach coordinator, at 430-1864.
**  The Poe Cottage is open for guided tours on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m. or during the week by appointment. For more information, call The Bronx County Historical Society at 881-8900.
**  To find out about programs and events or for information on joining the Ravens, call the Fordham Bedford Housing Corporation at 367-3200.
**  For recorded information about park events, call (212) 360-3456 or log on to www.nycparks.org or www.partnershipsforparks.org


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