Students try to reopen park

Even though it’s in the middle of a six-lane thoroughfare, Huntridge Circle Park — with its green grass and ample shade — looks plenty inviting on a hot summer’s day.

Until, that is, you notice the orange cones blocking the driveway and the prominent “park closed” signs facing every direction.

The park’s been closed since November 2006, when city of Las Vegas officials decided to shut it down after months of complaints about homeless people who congregated there and the fatal stabbing of a homeless man.

A group of political science students recently took on the park’s cause as a class project and will be lobbying city officials to reopen the park.

One of their suggestions is to build a veterans memorial there, something the city’s already considering.

But their favored recommendation is turning the space into a skate park.

“Las Vegas already has some of these things in place,” said Kevin Gruenwald, one of the five students who worked on the project as part of a class taught by University of Nevada, Las Vegas instructor Dean Dupalo at Nellis Air Force Base.

“It would help the youth — keep them fit and active and off the streets. And there’s a lot of grass and trees out there. That’s costly to maintain with all the water.”

Gruenwald, an Air Force master sergeant, said it’s likely that people from the base would help with the veterans memorial project.

Other possibilities include making the park a focal point for art and community events, or — most drastically — abandoning the park and paving it over for a roadway.

“We don’t think that’s a viable option,” Gruenwald said. “It’s well built. It’s established. I don’t think you can ever have enough parks.”

Mayor Pro Tem Gary Reese, who represents that part of the city, said he’ll “listen to everybody and anybody” with ideas for the park. He noted the city’s tight budget, though, as well as the fact that the nearby Freedom Park will have a skateboard area.

There’s a private push to raise money for a veterans memorial at Huntridge Circle Park, he said, and Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., is trying to allocate some money for the park as well.

“I’ve got it on the ‘money will-do’ list,” Reese said, adding that fundraising was proceeding “very slowly.”

“Things are tough right now. We’ll get there. It might take us a year or so,” he said.

The memorial park would cost about $3 million, city spokesman Jace Radke said.

In 2006, area residents had enough of homeless people gathering at the park, and Las Vegas officials embarked on an ambitious — and ultimately unconstitutional — course of action.

The City Council tried to make it illegal to give food to the homeless in city parks, based on the contention that an activist who regularly fed people at Huntridge Circle Park was drawing more people there. The ordinance was thrown out in court.

The city might approach the issue from another angle, Reese said. Research is being done on banning alcohol at city parks except for those who obtain a permit, as well as banning glass containers.

“This is citywide,” he said. “I don’t know how the other council members will react to that.”

Gruenwald acknowledged that it’s probably going to take private donations to remake the park in any significant way. But it’s also been closed too long, he said.

“The monthly cost of keeping that up — for what?” he said. “People have got to use it. I’m sure the residents would love to be able to use that park again.”

Gruenwald worked on the project with James McGuinness, Dennis Sizemore, Shaniqueka Meade and Cruz Belardo.

Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate@reviewjournal.com or 702-229-6435.

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