Indy Parks get $10M from Lilly Endowment

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It's the single biggest gift ever to Indy Parks. Monday morning, the Lilly Endowment announced it was giving the Indianapolis Parks Foundation $10 million to pay for upgrades and renovations at 13 parks across the city. The money will go toward everything from new playground equipment and park shelters to spray grounds and walking trails.

Parks Foundation president Tanya Husain said, "Compared to the budget we're working with, this is fabulous, a great, bountiful win for everyone."

The annual budget for Indy Parks averages $20 to $22 million.

Tarkington Park, which is between Meridian and Illinois near 38th Street, also gets a big boost.

"I don't think the deal gets any bigger for this park," said Michael McKillip, the executive of Midtown Indianapolis.

McKillip said the money will jump start efforts to transform the 11-acre park into a destination.

The park's new master plan calls for a new playground with two half-basketball courts and lower goals, an urban dog park with synthetic turf, a café and performing arts area and a spray plaza that can be used for ice-skating in the winter.

McKillip said it's not just about improving the park but improving the surrounding area.

"Historically, folks have seen 38th as the great wall of China between the south and north neighborhoods and a park of this scale invites the entire community to participate and use its amenities," he said.

While the grant will cover just a portion of the $9-$14 million needed to pay for the improvements, McKillip said it's enough to get the ball rolling and leverage more funds.

Asked about a timeline for all the additions and upgrades, he said, "conservatively, three to five years, aggressively, I'd like to see them start tomorrow. So, it really comes down to how aggressively we start raising funds."

The grant also helps the Frank and Judy O'Bannon Old Northside Soccer Park on East 16th reach a long-time goal. It will fund a new concession stand and restrooms and cover the cost of replacing the bumpy soccer fields with new turf.

Former first lady Judy O'Bannon said she's thrilled, that it's great for the neighborhood.

O'Bannon said, "This is where people get together and do things - it's how people build trust and understanding."

She said despite noise from the nearby interstate, the park has remained popular.

"From where I'm standing I see the skyline. I hear that constant hum of traffic," she said. "You might think who'd want to live near that, but I always thought it was like waves on the ocean. It's background. It tells me things are going on. People are coming out and making things happen and getting over obstacles and finding opportunities. I like that it's the sound of the city."

The money will also go to improvements at Beckwith Memorial, Bel Aire, Bertha Ross, Dubarry, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Gardner, Greene, Haughville and Stout Field parks, the Chuck Klein Softball Complex and the newly acquired Wildwood Park on the southeast side.

The grant money will be administered over three years beginning in 2013.

In 2009, the Lilly Endowment gave the Parks Foundation $7.3 million which paid for redoing more than 60 tennis courts, adding 14 permanent restrooms and making improvements to several aquatic facilities.

More about the grant

Several neighborhood parks ranging in size from five to 27 acres throughout the city will see improvements such as upgraded playground equipment, new permanent restrooms and shelters, water spray grounds, field upgrades and walking trails. These parks include Beckwith Memorial, Bel Aire, Bertha Ross, Dubarry, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Gardner, Greene, Haughville and Stout Field parks.

Also included in the grant is funding to support programming partnerships throughout the parks system. Indy Parks and IPF will identify partnering organizations to improve programming efficiencies, offerings and diversity.