The buzz from the announcement by Los Angeles Dodgers star outfielder Yasiel Puig to help fund a complete makeover for an underutilized recreational park in the City of San Fernando has not waned.
Puig has pledged from $750,000 to $1 million through his nonprofit charity organization, known as the Wild Horse Children’s Foundation, to renovate and upgrade Pioneer Park. And not just the park facilities: the funding would also restore and upgrade a dilapidated home near the park entrance and turn it into a community center that would be known as “Puig’s House.”
Puig also pledged to donate $1,000 for every home run he hits this season toward the project.
“I want to give back because I see Los Angeles going to the stadium every day and night after work, coming to the stadium yelling my name and supporting my teammates. That’s a good thing the community does for us. That’s why I want to pay back to the community,” Puig told reporters at Pioneer Park, where he publicly announced the project on April 19.
“The parents are working hard to give opportunities to the kids. I want to open a facility and have them play any sport. Have [their] own glove, own ball, and play here every day. Take classes. Stretch and massage. There’s a lot of things you can do for the community; that’s why I’m here in the San Fernando Valley.”
Puig’s financial pledge would go primarily toward the cost of construction and renovation.
San Fernando Mayor Sylvia Ballin would describe the offer in baseball terms. “Mr. Puig’s gift is a community grand slam,” Ballin said
Now comes the other, harder part: turning Puig’s and the City’s concept into a reality — a reality the foundation hopes could be constructed by the end of this calendar year.
But there are still other things that must happen.
There needs to be a negotiated contract in place — either a joint-use project or facility-use contract — between the foundation and San Fernando.
Councilmember Robert Gonzalez, who has been working with foundation officials regarding the proposed project since March, said he would like to see an ad hoc committee of the council, and at least one member of the City Chamber of Commerce and the San Fernando Little League all meeting with Wild Horse officials on the contract.
“We want to make sure the community’s voice is heard,” Gonzalez said.
If said contract could be signed by June, Gonzalez said, he believes an actual renovation could begin in the summer after the Little League’s and all-star teams’ seasons.
Right now that’s still down the road a bit, he admits. And the project could not be supported solely by the foundation. The City must also have a stake in its success.
House was a ‘Deal-maker”
When Gonzalez first heard from foundation Executive Director Lisette Carnet about Puig’s interest and vision, he said foundation officials were shown every park in San Fernando. “I even went to Google, took pictures of every park facility, and showed them those, too.”
Pioneer Park already had a baseball field, tennis courts and a basketball court in place, as well as enough land to build a soccer field. But Wild Horse chose Pioneer for the unused house. Puig felt it could become a kind of community center, even though the property had been boarded up nearly 10 years.
“It was the deal-maker,” Gonzalez said.
Nelson Algaze is the CEO of Shlemmer, Algaze and
Associates (SAA), Interiors & Architecture, Inc., which has offices in Culver City, Irvine, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New Jersey and New York. SAA is designing the renovations pro bono . He said San Fernando Vice Mayor Antonio Lopez — who is a director in the firm — brought the idea of the project to them.
Among the scheduled improvements:
— New soccer field;
— Extending the length of the baseball field;
— Adding park lights, stadium lights and a digital scoreboard;
— Four new batting cages;
— A stretching/yoga area;
— Upgrading the playground to meet safety and accessibility standards so the equipment there is readily accessible and usable by children with disabilities.
— Bringing the snack bar up to code to again serve food.
“We’re expanding the fields, getting lights up, getting the snack bar up and running. There is a lot of stuff being upgraded and cleaned up,” Algaze said. “And we’re making spaces accessible to people with disabilities, so it is safe and usable.”
“Puig’s House” will also undergo a major renovation that includes a kitchen to provide meals and host cooking and nutrition workshops. According to a release from the City, volunteers from California State University Northridge would lead programs for physical health and wellness, mental health counseling, and other programs “designed to benefit children and encourage their families to live healthier, well-rounded lives.”
The facility would also provide educational resources for adults through programs on financial literacy, ESL, citizenship and life coaching. Those services and programs would be offered on specific or alternating days so as not to overwhelm the facility.
“The building is small but it’s existing,” Algaze said. “It’s worth the investment in upgrading the building to be able to be used for the things they are planning to use it for. All of these assignments in their own right are not gigantic, but incremental improvements. When added all together, you have something that has impact.
“They’re all pieces, really. But they are pieces in place that have been abandoned. So we’re trying to salvage what is good and usable, and then enhance it.”
Carnet reiterated the foundation’s desire to have the project completed by the end of this year.
“That’s our hope, if we have enough help with partnerships we’re seeking across the City,” Carnet said. When asked if that timetable was realistic, she replied, “With Yasiel, anything is realistic. He’s ‘The Wild Horse,’ remember? On and off the field. And we’re talking about the end of the year. Not just the house — everything.
“As long as we have the help from the community we need, the partnerships we need from Los Angeles county, and the grants we need from the state and local government, we can make things happen.”
How the City Helps
Puig and Carnet talked with City of San Fernando Chamber of Commerce members before he spoke to San Fernando Valley residents, seeking to draw them into the project and offer their support, such as donating services and equipment, or even meals.
“We need you to meet us halfway,” Carnet told the membership.
As Gonzalez noted afterward, the private meeting with the Chamber “was to see what someone else could offer. It doesn’t necessarily mean money, but what else they could volunteer.”
One Chamber member who was there — Joeleen Medina, owner of the Truman House tavern in San Fernando — said she was “certainly willing” to offer any kind of help she could.
“It does take a village,” Medina said. “As business owners, it is our duty to make sure we build places like this for kids.
“There is definitely more than [just] financial need here. It comes down to us getting our hands in the project, too. I have two kids of my own and I want them to have a great place to play ball. This community has been a part of my growing up, and I consider it special.”