FEMA assigns over $5 million for San Juan parks, stadium
By John McPhaul
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has allocated a little more than $5 million for permanent works at three iconic recreational sites in San Juan: Parque Central, Hiram Bithorn Stadium and Luis Muñoz Marín Park.
“Each one of these parks means a lot for the sports, cultural and family lifestyles in Puerto Rico,” said José G. Baquero, the FEMA federal disaster recovery coordinator in Puerto Rico. “With these obligations, we reaffirm our commitment to the recovery of the island in all its aspects.”
Of the total allocations, $3 million is for Parque Central. The 14-acre park, which was inaugurated in 1979 for the Pan-American Games, has 60 employees and receives more than 5,000 daily visitors. The main building, athletic tracks, bleachers, 22 children’s play areas, pools and tennis courts at the park will be repaired. The process is currently in the bidding and design phase.
According to the administration at Parque Central, “the facility is used in a family-friendly way for recreational activities and sports, from age six to the elderly.” They also describe it as “the lungs of San Juan” due to its vast greenery.
For personal trainer Derick Negrón Figueroa, the repairs are important because there are not many such places available.
“The park helps the youth to continue to develop physically, it entertains them and the general community,” he said. “I like to come here because I can do what I want in a day in one place without having to go elsewhere.”
Meanwhile, nearly $1.1 million will be used to repair various areas, the main building, the pavilion and various general areas at Luis Muñoz Marín Park, originally known as Parque de Las Américas and inaugurated in 1983.
The popular family park, which has received nearly 951,200 people over the past six years, has a water park, a dog park, pavilions for rent, children’s play areas and bicycle and pedestrian tracks, among other things. The park welcomes between 150,000 and 200,000 visitors per year and creates 33 direct jobs and nearly 20 indirect ones.
Deputy Director Laura Vélez Ramírez said it is one of the most important parks in the city.
“The repair and maintenance work at the [park] are vital, especially during this historic time,” she said. “Parks have become the best option for recreation, education and enjoyment. They are open spaces that guarantee social distancing in compliance with health regulations.”
Of the funds for Luis Muñoz Marín Park, nearly $70,000 is earmarked for hazard mitigation work to prevent similar damages in future disasters. To this end, some fences and the aluminum gutter on the main building’s roof will be repaired to help store water for cisterns.
Likewise, over $930,000 was allocated to iconic Hiram Bithorn Stadium in Hato Rey and its power station. The repairs related to Hurricane Maria on this professional baseball stadium, which takes its name from the first Puerto Rican player to play in the Major Leagues, have already been completed. According to the Municipality of San Juan, the Bithorn, now open during regular hours following current public health protocols, expects 300,000 visitors during this fiscal year.
Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency (COR3) Executive Director Manuel A. Laboy Rivera said that “[o]nce the reconstruction work is finished, thousands of fans will enjoy sports competitions or safe and resilient recreational areas.”
He added that the island will be able to attract sports or entertainment events that “support local economic development through tourism.”