Coolavin Park Neighborhood Center was officially opened Wednesday after more than 17 years of effort.
"I would just to like thank God that we finally got this shelter together," said Elgethia Downey, a longtime leader of the Smithtown Neighborhood Association. "There's been some disappointments. There's been some crying. There's been a little bit of everything in this process."
Former Urban County Councilman George Brown, a candidate for an at-large seat this fall, said he started talking to city officials about the center in 1993.
Mayor Jim Newberry, who spoke at the dedication, said his first exposure to Coolavin Park was when his law firm played softball there.
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"The park was in a poor state of repair," he said. "The field was probably desirable enough to where only lawyers should have been sent to play there."
Rehabilitating the park and building the 1,972-square-foot center is part of a long effort to bring greater parity to city parks, Newberry said.
For the past nine years, a Parks and Recreation-organized baseball league has played at the park. It has 10 teams and 200 players. Old tennis courts have been turned into the region's only bike polo grounds.
The center, to be used for family reunions, receptions and neighborhood meetings, faced several delays.
Construction started in 2006, but it stopped when submerged footers from an old building were found. It turned out to be the remnants of the Odd Fellows Orphanage, which was built in the mid-19th century.
The center building had to be moved to a new location and the work begun again.