Stead Park: Proposed upgrades cause controversy

(Photo courtesy of Friends of Stead Park)

In the Dupont Circle neighborhood, Stead Park has seen a re-birth in recent years. It’s now used by thousands of athletes, young and old, and several sports leagues, including kickball, baseball, volleyball and soccer. But all of that activity has worn down the turf and a proposal to upgrade the field has caused controversy.

“It’s used every night,” says Tina Glass. “I’ve seen up to 16 soccer teams practicing at the same time.”

The organization Friends of Stead Park has proposed improvements to the heavily-used field, including new turf, better lighting and a fence that makes the facility look more inviting and less like a prison yard.

But the proposal also includes some new additions, like a kid-friendly spray fountain and shaded areas with benches.

“Over the past I’d say three years, families are moving in more and we see more children and so we want to regard all segments with the population and we kept that in mind when making this decision,” says Commissioner Victor Wexer.

Opponents say there is already a playground and basketball court nearby. They claim the new design will take away 25 percent of the existing sports field, which for weekend baseball or kickball leagues, that means losing one of two diamonds.

“Take for the example, Sunday,” says Martin Espinoza, co-founder of Stonewall Sports. “There’s 500 people that play using two fields simultaneously throughout the day and with this change you reduce that by half.”

More than 1,500 people have signed an online petition opposing the change in field size.

“I have a teen and we need more facilities that keep kids my children’s age out of trouble,” says Mary Simpson, a NW resident.

Opponents say their petition has also been signed by bar and restaurant owners along 17th Street, who they say financially benefit from the weekend sports league because they offer athletes food and drink specials. They say if you reduce the number of kickball fields from two to one, that will dramatically impact business.

“They go to JR’s or any other bars along 17th Street and then afterwards, they spend money, they spend a lot of money,” says Espinoza.

The proposal’s supporters acknowledge the new field might not allow for two games at once, but sports leagues will still be able to play there.

Meanwhile, on weekdays they say the field mostly sits vacant and they want to change that.

“This is not opposing anybody having any kind of legal fun. We welcome everybody. Everybody is welcome at Stead,” says Wexler.