March 10, 2010 Comments Closed

Waco volunteer effort aims to improve Lions Park

Posted by:Adam Voight onMarch 10, 2010

Original article by Bill Teeter of wacotrib.com

Waco businessmen are making a push to take care of a city landmark that is also a rare piece of American social history.

Representatives from about a dozen companies gathered Wednesday at Lions Park to discuss donating repairs to the 1950s-era amusement park, which has a growing list of items in need of fixing.

The facility, which operates on a nonprofit basis, “is badly in need of repair,” but money is hard to find, said Lori Roller, president of the Waco Founder Lions Club.

Kathy Schroeder, president of the Waco Association of Realtors, said she is pressing to get started immediately to have most of the renovations done by Memorial Day weekend.

“I’m trying to connect with some of our big players about replacing the train station roof or putting some stucco on the little (train) tunnel,” she said.

Tara DeLeon, an executive assistant for the Realtors group who is serving as project manager, said the park needs many upgrades.

The list includes:

* Replacing or refurbishing picnic tables;

* Updating ticket offices and bathrooms;

* Reworking electrical fixtures;

* Repainting rides;

* Maintenance of go-carts.

The Super Slide also requires a major overhaul, including a refinishing of the sliding surface.

A swimming pool is empty and unused, but it will not be part of this project, DeLeon said.

Although much has to be done, most of the park is operational, said C.C. Sirkel, Lions Park’s operations manager.

The facility runs on an annual budget of about $250,000, with $60,000 devoted to insurance, he said.

Once all of the expenses are taken care of, there’s nothing left for repairs, he said.

Joining the Realtors in the effort are the Heart of Texas Apartment Association, the Central Texas Chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America and the Central Texas Homebuilders Association, Schroeder said.

Companies that have signed on include Sherwin-Williams Co., Knife River, Parsons Roofing and Jim Bowen Electrical.

Texas State Technical College has pledged to help with some repairs.

Lions Park was established with the formation in 1955 of the Lions Park Trust, which has been replaced by Waco Lions Park Complex Inc.

A nine-member board of Lions Club members oversees the organization.

The park celebrated its 50th year of operation in 2008.

It is an important entertainment spot for the city’s children and their parents, Schroeder said.

Members of the Realtors group were discussing a project at the park when the Junior League membership voted to replace the mid-1960s vintage carousel with a new machine at a cost of $135,000.

Moving ahead

The Junior League’s move encouraged the Realtors to move ahead with overseeing the refurbishment, Schroeder said.

The head of a Lombard, Ill.-based historical group said the importance of Lions Park goes beyond Waco’s history.

It is one of only 14 amusement parks for small children remaining from what was a baby-boom explosion of about 200 such facilities across the country, said Jim Futrell, of the National Amusement Park Historical Association.

“This was a common thing following World War II,” he said. “A lot of them are approaching 50 (years old), and they are hitting the point where they need revitalization.”

Other surviving parks are found in San Antonio, Bartlesville, Okla., and several cities in California, he said.

Most of the parks were for-profit operations, but a few, such as Lions Park, were nonprofit operations.

“The nonprofit ones tended to survive because they didn’t have market forces to deal with,” Futrell said.

There have been attempts in the past to renovate Lions Park, but none has been on the scale proposed by the Realtors association.

While the group is promoting and coordinating renovation of the whole park, it is taking direct responsibility for the Kiddie Land section of rides for small children, DeLeon said.

A cost estimate for the whole park is not available, but Kiddie Land is expected to need about $100,000 worth of work, she said.

DeLeon, 27, said the park is a priceless source of entertainment and fond memories. She recalled going to the park as a child.

“This is a project about which we are really passionate, so many of us went there as kids or people took their grandchildren there,” DeLeon said. “I went to birthday parties, and I took swimming lessons at the pool.”

It’s not hard to find people wanting to help out, said Junior League president Merryl Jones, 37, who also played there as a child.

“All of us have fond memories for Lions Park. We have lots of people who have wanted to step in and help,” she said.

Fun for children

Ann Russell, 71, of Waco, was at Lions Park with her great grandchildren Wednesday as contractors took a look at what needed to be done.

She said the park is a great asset to have when the children are visiting with her.

“It’s the rides,” Russell said. “And the train. They just love the train.”

Company representatives participating in the meeting said the facility wasn’t too far gone.

Most of the concrete looked to be in good shape, but the asphalt could use some help, said Howard Wiggins, who does sales for Knife River’s Central Texas division.

Bill Torp, a sales representative with Sherwin-Williams, said he was looking into what the needs were for paint.

“We’re just seeing the scope of this project,” he said.

A Kentucky Derby fundraiser is set for 3-6 p.m. May 1, Derby Day, at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.

The $50-per-person event will have a live screening of the race, auctions, betting with fake money, and food and beverages.

Individuals wanting to donate services or funds can call DeLeon at 254-776-0210.

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