Lee Murray Helps Revive Downtown Park

Tuesday, November 28, 2017 - by Carolyn Mitchell
Lee Murray
Lee Murray

Competition Athletic Surfaces has installed tennis courts at the University of Tennessee, a rooftop walking path for Unum headquarters and a warming track at the Lookouts' baseball park. But the company earned its first Certificate of Appreciation for a pro bono assist to the renewal of a tiny urban park on Chattanooga's southside.  

And CAS owner Lee Murray takes special pride from helping Pringle Park make another comeback after it sprang from a garbage-littered lot 35 years ago. 

This fall Mr. Murray's crew turned back time for the Pringle Park basketball court with a resurfacing and paint job. The project was part of an overall park upgrade, undertaken by the Chattanooga Public Works park maintenance department at the urging of a city police officer who played in the park as a teenager. 

"We were happy to make the improvements to the court without charge," says Mr. Murray, who estimates the work was worth $5,000. "Our company enjoys a reputation across the South and beyond.  But we owe much of our success to the people and institutions that support us here in our hometown.  The Pringle Park project was an opportunity to give back to the community." 

Located a few blocks west of Howard High School and south of Interstate 24,  Pringle Park was dedicated as a city recreation area in 1982. It was named for a neighborhood activist and urban blight warrior, George M. Pringle. 

Mr. Pringle's lobbying of city leaders led to appropriations for resurfacing streets, laying sidewalk and funding home repairs for elderly residents. He was especially proud of spearheading the transformation of a neighborhood eyesore into a charming corner park.

The property at Long Steet and 26th Street had degenerated into a dilapidated house and a dumping ground. But when Mr. Pringle looked at the unsightly lot, he saw a basketball court shaded by a hackberry tree. He saw children squealing happily down a slide and grown-ups enjoying lunch under a pavilion. 

Mr. Pringle's persistence was rewarded when the Chattanooga city commission agreed to lease the Long Street property and convert it to a park.  Sixteen years later in 1998 the city bought the park, affirming residents' claim that the grassy, shade-spangled site was a "centerpiece" of the neighborhood. 

Chattanooga police investigator Robin Davenport was one of the neighborhood kids who spent many a happy hour practicing jump shots and layups in Pringle Park. 

"I used to dribble my basketball through the church lot to get to the park, a few blocks from my home," Mr. Davenport recalls. "It was where I learned to play basketball and how to be a good team member." 

Pringle Park was also a place to escape criminal activity.  "It was a safe haven for me and my friends," Mr. Davenport says. "The trouble makers played ball with us too but they left their trouble outside the playground."

Now 41, the 16-year law enforcement veteran lives in Highland Park. But Mr. Davenport still keeps an eye on his old stomping grounds. "I drive through and check on residents and sometimes get out and shoot some hoops," he says. "I saw that the basketball court was dirty and cracked. I didn't see kids playing there like in the day."  

James Bergdoll, director of park maintenance for the city, was delighted when Mr. Davenport approached him about a Pringle Park renewal.  "We have 84 city parks," Mr. Bergdoll says. "So it's hard for us to keep all of them in top condition. We have to rely on help from the community."
While outreach coordinator Anna Mathis began recruiting volunteers, Mr. Bergdoll contacted Competition Athletic Services which had upgraded a dozen or more city basketball and tennis courts a year before. 

"We were happy with CAS's product and service and with the opportunity to employ a local company," Mr. Bergdoll says. And he was more than happy when Mr. Murray, after taking a look at Pringle, offered to redo the basketball court at no charge. 

"It struck me as a cool project," Mr. Murray says. "It's an inner city park, and here's a cop leading the effort. That means the project is not only reviving a strong neighborhood asset, it's forming bonds between the residents and the police." 

Ms. Mathis rounded up 19 volunteers to join Mr. Davenport and Mr. Murray for Pringle sparkle duty. They pulled weeds and spread mulch. They painted the pavilion, the swings and the slide. They added a basketball hoop,  And they pressure-washed the basketball court. 

Mr. Murray's crew filled cracks and smoothed out the court which now curves over the roots of the hackberry tree. Three or four coats of paint later and the refurbished court was ready for action. 

"I was blown away by Lee's generosity," Mr. Bergdoll says. "They made this project even more special. We can't thank them enough." 

Mr. Davenport was equally grateful.  "Competition Athletic Surfaces did an A-1 job," he says. "People are coming back to Pringle now that the park is attractive again and the facilities are in good shape." 

The first big event at the park was a basketball game, pitting a team of police officers against a team of preachers.  "They brought in bleachers and a scoreboard and there was food and drinks," Mr. Murray says. "About 75 people turned out." 

In ceremonies after the game Mr. Murray picked up the Certificate of Appreciation which now hangs in his office. 

The ministers defeated the cops that day but there were no hard feelings. They all had come together to bring the old park back to life. And everybody was a winner.

Jump ball at Pringle Park
Jump ball at Pringle Park

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