Pinckney Neighborhood residents urged Lawrence Memorial Hospital to build up instead of out so as to spare Woody Park.
On Saturday morning, hospital and city officials, neighbors and descendants of Elgin Woody Sr., the park’s namesake, met to discuss LMH’s plans to build a parking lot on the city land.
LMH has proposed using the four-acre site adjacent to its property to ease tight parking conditions. The lot would be used by employees. In return, the hospital would purchase land for another park or enhance an existing one, carrying Woody’s legacy to the new area.
But neighbors and family members said Woody Park holds historic significance and would set a bad precedent of turning green space into pavement.
LMH CEO and President Gene Meyer told a crowd of around 30 that the volume of patients had grown faster than expected, making parking a problem.
Right now the hospital has 900 parking spaces to house the 1,100 cars the hospital sees on a daily basis.
“Every single day, every hour of the day we are not overwhelmed,” Meyer said. “But when we see the bulk of activity that goes on at the hospital on a weekday, during the mid-part of the day there is really a severe challenge.”
Neighbors questioned why the hospital couldn’t build a parking garage or deck on its existing space instead of expanding into Woody Park.
“The only way to resolve this issue is to build up or build down,” said Ken Armitage, who lives in the Pinckney neighborhood.
Building a parking garage would cost around $4 million versus the $600,000 it would cost to use Woody Park, Meyer said.
The park is dedicated to a man who for years maintained the ball diamond and organized minority leagues to play on them. Those in Saturday’s crowd said that in the days of segregation, the park was a place where the black community came to play ball. Teams from all over the state played there. He was Lawrence’s version of Kansas City’s Buck O’Neil, a Negro league baseball player, someone noted.
“We would have big events out there,” Woody’s grandson Greg Francisco said.
However, that was in the field’s heyday. Mark Hecker, Lawrence parks superintendent, acknowledged the field’s use has gone down over the past decade. This year it was used for little more than 100 practices.
The field is too small for adult and teenage teams to play on. It’s best suited for those 10 and under, which would bring a large crowd and create further parking problems, Hecker said.
Francisco said that whatever happens, he would like to see his grandfather’s name continue to be remembered.
“I would love to see it stay there. But I know that there are things that surround (the park) where it is not useable in the capacity that it used to be,” he said.