Mid-Monday morning while the air was still cool and brisk, community leaders, organizers, artists, and residents gathered on the newly-paved basketball court at Flanders Field to commemorate more than two years of collaboration and sweat equity that have given new life to the neighborhood park. While Main Street West, the subset of Marietta Main Street that led the charge, had already been recognized statewide for their work, the ribbon-cutting marked an important milestone for the community.

“For a community that often feels put down, it feels good to realize that others notice that we’re building things up,” said Geoff Schenkel, Fourth Ward City Councilman and Marietta Main Street Board Member.

The building up of Flanders Field has been a gradual process that began with repairing previously contentious relationships. “If we didn’t directly engage with the Sluggers and form a cooperative relationship, none of this would have happened,” said Schenkel, noting that he appreciated efforts made by Mark Duckworth and Ben Arnold to come to an agreement following complaints from neighborhood children about being locked out of the baseball field.

The new MOV Rebound for Kids banner installed at Flanders Field

Progress in the park continued under Jackson Patterson’s watchful eye. Patterson, who launched the MOV Rebound for Kids program in 2018 to build positive relationships between neighbor kids and local law enforcement, took it upon himself to regularly clean up the park, picking up trash and disposing of needles. “Jackson has made improvements to the park by setting an example,” said Shenkel. “By being a positive role model and demonstrating self-respect, respect for others, and care of place, he’s encouraged others to do the same, creating a ripple effect.”

As Flanders Field is cared for, other neglected things in the neighbor begin to get addressed.

Geoff Schenkel

Funds for improvements have come from Harmar residents like Linda Veraldo and fundraisers from Harmar businesses like Boathouse BBQ. Last summer, volunteers painted playground equipment in bright, primary colors and added a fireman’s pole where an old street sign had previously stood in as a ‘baby gate.’ The City of Marietta’s Engineering and Streets Departments coordinated with local residents and Main Street West to create additional parking for improved safety during baseball and softball games. The City’s Recreation Department purchased new rims, while Patterson purchased new nets which he and volunteers installed and adjusted.

Fourth Ward City Councilman Geoff Schenkel and Main Street West Chair Jackson Patterson

As the community continued to invest time and energy into Flanders Field, the neighborhood’s pride in the park grew. “As Flanders Field is cared for, other neglected things in the neighbor begin to get addressed,” said Schenkel. “The ripple effect is a big deal.”

Cristie Thomas, Interim Executive Director of Marietta Main Street, said the Flanders Field improvements play a big role in the work of Main Street West. “By investing in public space where the community gathers – family, kids, neighbors – we invest in time spent together with folks from across Marietta but especially those on the West Side,” said Thomas. “Some would say these improvements are improvements to the quality of life; they’d be right, but perhaps even more than that the completion of this work shows that Main Street West once again had a goal and accomplished it as a team of community members.”

Playground equipment was given a fresh coat of paint last summer

Patterson, Schenkel, and the dozens of Harmar residents and business owners that have come together to transform the park have a lot to be proud of, said Thomas. “From bus stop signs to street improvements to public health initiatives and more, I’m so proud to have Main Street West under the Marietta Main Street umbrella as a fifth pillar of our work, bridging the other four pillars of organization, promotion, design, and economic vitality – and focusing them specifically on a more residential area within and on the edge of our downtown. This work is important.”

I think it’s important to utilize our skills to improve the image of the West Side and give the kids a safe, colorful environment.

Chase Chovan

The most recent renovations include the installation of inspirational artworks on backboards, designed by the artists at Monkey’s Uncle Tattoo, new drainage, and fresh asphalt and sealant on the basketball court. Artists Chase Chovan, Meg Rataiczak, and Sean Zeb’ulun teamed up with Studio 618, also located in Harmar, to install uplifting, graffiti-inspired art.

Chase Chovan, Owner of Monkey’s Uncle Tattoo, in front of the backboard he designed

“It’s important to me to bring attention to the West Side and support the people who welcome my shop and let us work there in the neighborhood,” said Chovan. “I think it’s important to utilize our skills to improve the image of the West Side and give the kids a safe, colorful environment.”

Chovan said his dad grew up on the West Side and he spent much of his childhood at his grandparent’s house. “I feel like I should honor his and my grandparents’ memories by giving back to the neighborhood.”

Artist Meg Rataiczack, in front of one of two backboards she designed

Rataiczak was excited to see her artwork installed on two of the four backboards. “I am so honored, as an artist and as a resident of Marietta, to be asked to make artwork that directly benefits my community and the families in it,” she said. “It’s really rewarding to get to see something I worked on and created decorating a public space.”

Now as children play basketball on the court, they will be encouraged to focus, inspire, and dream.