Harlingen reviews park projects for grant funding; mulling $941K Vestal upgrade

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A view of Vestal Park in Harlingen on Wednesday, May 8, 2024. (Miguel Roberts | The Brownsville Herald)

HARLINGEN — Months after residents pushed for upgrades, a north side neighborhood park’s in the running for its biggest grant request of the year.

After weeks of debate, city commissioners appear to support a proposal to apply for a $750,000 state grant to help fund a $941,313 project aimed at revamping Vestal Park along Lafayette Avenue.

For the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department grant, Rangerville Park and C.B. Wood Park are also vying for the money.

To help make the decision, Mayor Norma Sepulveda is calling for a workshop to review commissioners’ top park priorities for grant funding.

“These guys are going to work really hard to see where we want to work first,” she told residents during a May 1 meeting. “But all the parks need some TLC and I look forward to see what the priority list looks like.”

Sepulveda also called on Javier Mendez, the city’s parks director, to help tap the park for the big makeover.

“We do value your opinion as well, so if you want to share that with us, I think that would be great,” she told Mendez. “Having your input is going to be important because we want to work in all of them but there’s a select amount of time, a select amount of staff and resources. You’re the one out there in it every day so you know what’s most in need and what’s feasible.”

Since last month, commissioners have been debating the park they’ll pick for the grant’s application.

For years, officials have been pumping grant money into the city’s big parks.

Now, commissioners are working to develop Harlingen’s smaller neighborhood parks in the city featuring 24 parks stretching across 612 acres.

A view of Vestal Park in Harlingen on Wednesday, May 8, 2024. (Miguel Roberts | The Brownsville Herald)

“I know they all need help,” Sepulveda said during a April 17 meeting. “That’s the idea — to have a green space where kids and families can walk from their homes and be able to enjoy a park — the outdoors. We have been getting a lot of emails and phone calls and text messages and seeing people at H-E-B and talking about parks.”

In a presentation, Mendez requested commissioners pick between Vestal Park, Rangerville Park and C.B. Wood Park for the $750,000 grant application, which stipulates a $750,000 city share.

During discussion, Commissioner Daniel Lopez said Vestal Park draws more residents to the site of an adult soccer league and cheerleading squads while children play football there.

“Vestal gets the most use,” he told commissioners. “I went out there. It was packed. It’s pretty impressive how many kids.”

At Vestal Park, Mendez is proposing a $941,313 project funding upgrades including construction of basketball courts, a splash pad and concession stand along with a canopy to cover the park’s bleachers.

For Vestal Park, the grant application would mark its second of the year, months after residents took the podium at city hall, calling for upgrades at the park they described as long neglected.

In January, officials applied to the Parks and Wildlife Department for a $254,751 grant to help fund construction of a 6.2-mile asphalt trail aimed at linking much of the north side neighborhood, Ana Hernandez, the city’s special projects director, said.

Now, officials are awaiting the state’s response, Mendez said.

As part of last month’s presentation, Mendez also requested commissioners consider tapping Rangerville Park for the new grant application, proposing a $1.3 million project aimed at building a sports field along with covered bleachers, restrooms and picnic shelters.

Along the Arroyo Colorado Hike and Bike Trail, he’s also proposing a project at C.B. Wood Park, calling for construction of a pavilion overlooking the arroyo, along with restrooms and a picnic area at the future home of the city’s kayak launch site.

A view of Vestal Park in Harlingen on Wednesday, May 8, 2024. (Miguel Roberts | The Brownsville Herald)