Mayor Andy Berke, at a press conference on Friday morning at the old Lincoln Park, said Erlanger Health System plans to donate five acres of the park to the city for continued park use.
The Erlanger board was due to have approved the move on Thursday night, but the item was pulled from the agenda after some board members had questions about the transfer.
Mayor Berke said he and his staff immediately began talks with Erlanger officials and board members "to provide complete information and to answer all their questions." He said he is confident that the deal will go through soon.
The mayor also assured a large group of Lincoln Park neighborhood residents that a new road extending Central Avenue to Riverside Drive "will not go through the park."
He indicated that the road will still be built in a way he said will benefit both Erlanger and Lincoln Park residents.
“Lincoln Park is an important piece of our city’s African American history and culture,” said Mayor Berke. “Preserving the park was one of the first community development projects on our radar. I want to thank Erlanger as well as Councilman Moses Freeman and surrounding neighbors for continuing to engage in this process.”
He added, “Over the next month, we will bring members of my department of Transportation and Economic and Community Development together with the Erlanger Board to answer questions and alleviate any remaining concerns regarding the transfer of this land. I am confident that we will be able to work together with Erlanger to make this transfer happen. I want to reassure everyone here today that I am 100 percent committed to preserving this park.”
“We are committed to work with the city to make Lincoln Park available to all residents of our community and acknowledge the history that Lincoln Park stands for,” said Kevin M. Spiegel, FACHE, Erlanger Health Systems president & CEO.
“As a trustee of the Erlanger board I am excited about this opportunity to bring our mission of changing lives to life,” said Kim White, Erlanger board member. “By working with our committed partners, the city of Chattanooga and the Lincoln Park residents, we can come together and turn this into an asset we can all be proud of.”
“We are glad to see that the Administration is taking this so seriously,” said Lincoln Park Neighborhood President Vanice Hughley. “This park means so much to our community, and I believe that we will work together to make this project work.”
“Lincoln Park is a great example of a neighborhood working with this administration toward a common purpose. I appreciate the hard work of everyone involved in making the preservation of this land a reality,” said Councilman Freeman.
Erlanger Vice President Gregg Gentry said the city transferred 18.3 acres at the old Lincoln Park as part of a land swap around 1979-1981. Erlanger built a child care facility on part of the tract and uses a building at the old Lincoln Park pool for construction headquarters.
The five-acre tract that is slated for a new city park includes tennis courts and the old baseball field.
At the press conference were many who grew up at Lincoln Park, including former City Commissioner John Franklin, who said he often would spend the entire day in the Olympic-size swimming pool.
UTC Vice President Richard Brown said he also played at the park that opened in 1918 near Erlanger just off the current end of Central Avenue.
Rep. JoAnne Favors said she would walk along Central Avenue from her home on the Southside to enjoy Lincoln Park. She said, "My mother gave me a bus token to use in case of lightning."
She said it was free to enter the park, but there was a charge for the pool and the rides, that included a Ferris wheel, merry-go-round, swings, kiddy cars and kiddy buggy. She said, "If you presented six Donald Duck bottle caps you could get in the swimming pool free."
Rep. Favors recalled enjoying popcorn, cotton candy and Cool Outs (snow cones) at Lincoln Park.
She said on Sundays that Lincoln Park would be so crowded "it was like Riverbend."
She said that was the only park blacks were allowed to attend. The only day of the year they could enter Warner Park was on Friday of county fair week, she stated.
Also present at the press conference was Ben "Big Ben" Scruggs, who used to be one of the operators for the Ferris wheel and other rides.
He said Lincoln Park was the only park for blacks in the country that had amusement rides. He said blacks would come from other cities throughout the South to enjoy all that Lincoln Park had to offer, including the baseball and softball games.
He remembers as many as 65 buses parked outside the park.
Mr. Scruggs said the heyday of Lincoln Park ended when the parks were desegregated. Blacks from other cities then had other local options. Blacks in Chattanooga suddenly were able to visit Warner Park and other parks.
The crowds at Lincoln Park slimmed so much that the owner of the rides, a man named Thornhill, sold them and they were taken away, he said.
The Olympic-size swimming pool was filled in.
Mayor Berke said he has asked the Trust For Public Land to hold public meetings to draft a plan for the best future use of Lincoln Park.