City of Fort Lauderdale and Orange Bowl Committee join forces to build $3 million renovation project at Carter Park
Local dignitaries gathered to participate in a ground breaking ceremony recently at Joseph C. Carter Park in Fort Lauderdale, signaling the beginning of a major $3 million dollar renovation project which will include construction of a state of the art track and synthetic turf football field.
By Charles Moseley
In today’s political volatile climate, it’s not often that you find politicians who will cross party lines to support virtually anything. However, the city of Fort Lauderdale has done just that in conjunction with the Orange Bowl Committee in order to upgrade Carter Park with a $3 million dollar renovation project. Local dignitaries gathered last Thursday for a ground breaking ceremony signaling the start of the project which will include an eight lane state-of-the-art track and brand new synthetic turf foot-ball field.
Joseph C. Carter Park, formerly known as Sunland Park, has been where tens of thou-sands of inner city youth took their first stab organized athletic competition before going on to compete at scholastically on the high school and collegiate level with some reaching their dreams of becoming professional athletes. For many more Carter Park provided a foundation which led to their future success in various works of life in society.
There have been few individuals who grew up in the Northwest section of Fort Lauderdale who did not have fond memories of competing on the play-grounds or basketball courts of Carter Park. Some of those who were on hand read like a Who’s Who of Sunland and Carter Park alumni including Coach Johnny Alexander, Greg Brewton, Abraham “Honey Bun” Irving, and Brian Blades, all of whom shared a unique bond in their connection to the park some as far back as the 1950’s.
Coach Johnny Alexander has been involved in one capacity or another at the park since the early 50s. He presently works for the City of Fort Lauderdale’s Parks and Recreation Department as a Recreation Programmer II. As the elder statesman at the park and longtime Com-missioner for the Western Tiger little league football program he has had a hand in the lives of thousands of young athletes and has seen boys grow into very productive members of society.
“I’ve been involved with Sunland (Carter Park) since 1953. Today is a great day. This is a day we’ve looked forward to for many years. I remember when we ran track at the park in the 1950’s and 60’s. We would run on the drive way entrance of the park for our straight away races. We ran our circular events on a track laid out on the baseball field. This has to be the happiest day of my life since I’ve been involved with the park here in the City of Fort Lauderdale.”
Former Piper High, University of Miami, and NFL Seattle Seahawks Pro Bowl wide receiver Brian Blades as well as his brother Bennie a former defensive back for the Detroit Lions both played little league football locally and grew up on Sunland Park.
“It all began right here for me and my brother on this play-ground at Sunland Park. I played for Coach Johnny Alexander when I was eight years old for the Western Tigers and now I’ve come full circle. It’s a blessing that we’re finally giving back to our kids. Now we can get our kids off the streets and also give us a chance to give back,” said Blades.
Greg Brewton is Director of the Department of Sustainable Development for the City of Fort Lauderdale. He also grew up playing on the playground formerly known as Sunland Park during the 1960’s and 70’s. He was a standout football player at Dillard High School and Michigan State University.
“I feel this is a very significant event here today at this historic site. This is where many great athletes spent their early years in Fort Lauderdale. And to see money being put into continuing that legacy is tremendous plus for the entire community.”
According to Alexander the idea to build a track has been around for many years however it took the collective effort of local City of Fort Lauderdale elected officials spearheaded by Fort Lauderdale Mayor John P. “Jack” Seiler and the Orange Bowl Committee to finally start the wheels in motion which resulted in raising the funding for the multi-million dollar renovation project.
Mayor Seiler was joined by the entire City of Fort Lauderdale Commission along with Capture Orange Bowl Committee President & Chairman O. Ford Gibson, Chair of the Orange Bowl Legacy Gift Committee Frank Gonzalez, CEO Eric L. Poms, City of Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Bobby Dubose, State Senator Chris Smith, State Representative Perry Thurston, and Commissioner Dale Holness.
“Today’s event speaks volumes for the commitment to our youth by the City of Fort Lauderdale, not only to our youth but to our community within the Northwest. This new football field and track facility will promote sports it will also allow our adults to come out and exercise. We have said from day one that no neighborhood will be left behind. This partnership between the City and the Orange Bowl is what really facilitates a comprehensive plan where we are improving our neighborhoods,” said Commissioner Dubose.
The renovation project is slated for unveiling during the week of the 2013 Discover BCS National Championship Game hosted by the Orange Bowl and comes on the heals of a similar renovation project at Moore Park in the Allapattah neighborhood of Miami which commemorated the Orange Bowl’s 75th Anniversary four years ago. The Orange Bowl Committee is a 348 member, primarily –volunteer non-profit sports organization that promotes and serves communities throughout South Florida.
Former Orange Bowl Committee Chief Executive for Com-munity Outreach Len Washington echoed the sentiments shared by his fellow Orange Bowl Committee members.
“This is a significant move by the Orange Bowl. It shows the Orange Bowl’s commitment to all of South Florida not just Miami. It is a commitment to the City of Fort Lauderdale and the children of Fort Lauderdale. When this project is done it’s going to be used for football and for track so it shows a commitment to youth sports not just football.”
Probably no one truly exemplified the spirit of Sunland Park over the years, than one of its biggest supporters than long time park employee Abraham Irving affectionately known as “Honey Bun,” since he began coming to the park as a young boy. Irving has become the unofficial “Ambassador” of Carter Park.
“This means a lot for the kids who will come behind me because when we were growing up we didn’t have anything like this. Now they will have an opportunity to do and become any-thing they want.”