UNO Community Center Celebrates New Park
Especially if that village also includes an internationally acclaimed museum, a multinational investment banker and, most importantly, a very vocal and civic-minded resident seeking to ensure the future of her neighborhood.
And so the latest coup for Shirley Davis, founder of the United Neighborhood Organization, was Saturday's celebration on the opening of the expanded UNO Park.
The plot next to the UNO Community Center on River Street is largely complete and includes seating, a grassy play area, trees, a bocce court, pickleball court and a basketball half court. A section to its north on Houghton Street and owned by the city has been paved as a parking lot and ramps and decks link the parking to the park and a grassy picnic area behind the center.
Despite the sometimes heavy rain on Saturday, children were still running about the park and playing ball. There were hot dogs roasting and cotton candy and, outside, tents were set up at the main entrances to shelter those coming to the celebration.
The collaboration between UNO, the city, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and John "Jack" Wadsworth and his wife, Susy, owners of the Porches, has revitalized a somewhat rundown corner of the city into a welcoming center for visitors and residents alike.
"It takes private support, it takes strong hands on the public rudder and it takes a really powerfully invested interested and caring community and we've got that here in spades, too," said Joseph Thompson, director of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art on a Saturday. "Shirley Davis has been a friend here for so long."
It was three years ago that the UNO Community Center opened in a former tavern on River Street. Purchased and renovated by Wadsworth — what he calls "impact investing" — the center provided the first permanent home for the neighborhood group founded by Davis in 1990.
Wadsworth has purchased three corners of the River, Marshall and Houghton streets intersection: The new park next to the UNO center and another parcel across Houghton Street, and a former pool supply company on Marshall.
The second park on Houghton and River, and next to the existing city field and playground, is almost complete and will include a grassy amphitheater, a pagoda and a place for screening movies. Both sections of the UNO Park were funded by Mass MoCA.
The project's taken more time than expected — it was supposed to open last summer — but one side was finally completed a few weeks ago.
Thompson described the UNO projects and other improvements along River Street by Wadsworth as an "unbelievably long and heartfelt gift to the neighborhood." In addition, he said, the city has long had "steady hands at the public rudder and this project has been really lucky because three strong mayors have overlooked it."
State Rep. John Barrett III, former longtime mayor of the city, recalled how Davis had first approached him with concerns about her Bracewell Avenue neighborhood that had blossomed into UNO.
"I was always a strong believer that you can rebuild a city through its neighborhood and she was the impetus to get it all done," he said. "Not only did we rebuild this neighborhood but others in the city and we wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for you, lady."
He had been succeeded by Richard Alcombright, who had worked with Wadsworth and Mass MoCA to develop the community center and begin the parks. Mayor Thomas Bernard, said Thompson, was going to be "the closer."
Bernard also spoke of the impact Davis had made, referring to her books of pictures and notes from years past of meetings and parties and events held by UNO. Participants may not remember every detail Davis does, but they will remember how they felt, he said.
"What they remember is this is a community that cares about them that this is a community that sustains and builds them and they will remember that, and they will be inspired by that and they will carry that forward," he said. "And they will go and make their neighborhoods and their community stronger."
Also speaking were Northern Berkshire Community Coalition Executive Director Amber Besaw, who thanked officials and residents for making this happen in her neighborhood: "You have completely embraced the idea of a community center and a park."
Former NBCC director and now state Sen. Adam Hinds said, "it's really been in the spirit of North Adams and the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition ... the first things we were doing is sitting in Porches and saying how do we make sure this park is based on what the residents of this neighborhood want .. so this is exactly what the neighborhood was calling for."
In attendance was Alcombright, former NBCC director Alan Bashevkin, parks contractor Francis "Bigs" Waterman, City Councilors President Keith Bona and Paul Hopkins, former City Councilors David Bond and Lisa Blackmer, representatives from Mass MoCA and numerous NBCC staff and community members.
Davis, in her remarks, gave the credit to just about everyone but herself. "Without all of you, none of this would be possible," she told the crowd.
Barrett, however, remembered how she'd refused Wadsworth push to name the center after her, and how now there was a park with no name.
"Wouldn't it be great if we name that the Shirley Davis Park?" he said, adding it as a suggestion to the current mayor. "I think it's time we recognize this lady and those that will use it in future generations will know there was once a woman named Shirley Davis who did so much to make our community better."
Bernard replied: "Challenge accepted."
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