The long wait for the new park in Old Town Goleta is over.
Jonny D. Wallis Neighborhood Park officially opened to the public Saturday morning, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and active demonstrations of the amenities offered at the four-acre site at 170 S. Kellogg Ave.
Huddles of families were relaxing on a multiuse field.
Others were sitting at picnic tables while kids shot hoops on a mini basketball court.
Some people were playing chess, and others were using a tricked-out concrete skate park plaza.
“It has been a long road, but this park is our pot of gold at the end of the rainbow — a place to gather, recreate and celebrate this amazing place, and the people who live here,” said Vyto Adomaitis, the City of Goleta’s neighborhood services and public safety director.
The city’s since-dissolved Redevelopment Agency acquired the property nearly eight years ago.
A large sign advertising the new park in Old Town has been in place since 2013, on the undeveloped lot near the intersection of Kellogg and Hollister avenues, as the project stalled due to ownership issues and some other hurdles.
Construction began last year.
The park’s planning process gave the community its voice.
Residents helped select design elements for the park and contributed suggestions for its name, with the City Council voting to dedicate it to Wallis, one of the original council members when Goleta incorporated in 2002. She died in 2013 at age 67.
The public recreation space features a handball court, concrete ping-pong table, bocce ball court, pickleball court, pedestrian and bicycle paths, exercise equipment, a restroom building and playground area.
It also has drinking fountains, a perimeter walking path, fitness nodes with exercise equipment, picnic structures and game tables.
“As I came here today, I watched so many kids with smiles on their faces, enjoying the outdoors, enjoying an incredible space for them to play, to learn and to interact with other people in this neighborhood,” said Assemblywoman Monique Limón, D-Santa Barbara.
“The immediate impact is that the character of this neighborhood has changed because of this park.”
She also talked about a greater good.
“I don’t know who is more excited,” Limón added. “I don't know if it’s me or the dozens of kids who are out there.
“There are communities in the state that have a lower propensity of outdoor space, and this is one of them.”
She said outdoor play areas offer residents fresh air and friends.
“I have often said, that for so many people in California, parks are the only backyard they could ever have,” Limón said. “And as the state grapples with our housing difficulties, that will be more and more.
“This park is the backyard for dozens of kids who will never have a backyard, and it is also going to be an outdoor space for everybody else.”
Funding for the construction came from a $910,000 grant, and Park Development Impact Fees covered the remaining $3.8 million.
Voters approved Proposition 84 in 2006, allowing California to sell $5.4 billion in bonds and distribute the money for parks, water quality and supply, conservation projects, local park improvements and other efforts.
The Old Town park had to be finished by June or risk losing the grant money.
California State Parks Ranger Tyson Butzke said parks funding has been prioritized to the neediest communities, as voters intended.
The state parks department chose “to fund 100 different park programs in neighborhoods to bring a park like this to a community that very much needed a play area,” he said, adding that, “our surveys … discovered that there are approximately .4 acres per 1,000 people that the parks were currently serving, and that made this park a priority to fund.”
Hundreds of applicants requested close to $2 billion, Butzke said.
“To be able to fund this park, salute to your grant writers, as well as the community for making this great need apparent up in Sacramento,” he said.
A bronze plaque will soon be mounted on a building at the park to recognize people who helped make the project happen, Mayor Paula Perotte said.
“It takes a village,” she said. “We did it.”
— Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.