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(Lake Emilie in Renziehausen Park. Tube City Almanac file photo)
McKeesport officials went to Allegheny County's Regional Asset District this week to plead their case for additional funding for Renziehausen Park.
On Monday, city Administrator Tom Maglicco and Jen Vertullo, assistant to Mayor Mike Cherepko, requested from the RAD board approximately $724,000 toward operating expenses at the park, as well as $225,000 toward capital improvements to parking areas and repairs at the park's seven pavilions.
The operating expense request is a 3 percent increase over the current Allegheny County RAD allocation of $703,000. Maglicco said the city requested the increase to cover inflationary expenses.
"We try to stress to the RAD board that Renzie is a regional asset for all of the Mon Valley in Allegheny County," he said. "We want people to use our facilities and draw people into our city and our community."
Separately, the city has received $200,000 to expand Renzie into the so-called Palkovitz property on Eden Park Boulevard behind the Pennsylvania Coach Lines school bus garage.
The money, from the county's Community Infrastructure and Tourism Fund, will be used to extend Renzie's fitness trail and to add a dog park, said A.J. Tedesco, McKeesport community development director.
The Regional Asset District is funded by Allegheny County's 1 percent sales tax. The city of Pittsburgh received $5.6 million this year from RAD toward operating expenses on its five largest parks, while Allegheny County's parks received $20 million, along with $945,000 for capital improvements.
Renzie Park is named for the Renziehausen family, who donated $50,000 toward its creation. In 1931, the city used the money to purchase a 15-acre picnic grove from the McKeesport Turners' Club and borrowed $140,000 to buy additional land around that grove.
Today, the park spans 258 acres and includes the Lions Bandshell, the fitness trail, a new dek-hockey court, numerous baseball and softball fields, the enclosed Jacob Woll Pavilion, the McKeesport Regional History & Heritage Center museum and archives, and Pennsylvania’s second-largest certified rose arboretum.
About 250,000 people use Renzie each year, Vertullo said, "when you add up all of the amenities --- concerts, International Village, the fishing derby, the Festival of Trees, you name it --- that draw people to the park."
Maglicco said McKeesport officials are asking RAD to fund two major projects in Renzie Park --- one to create additional off-street parking at an estimated cost of $99,000, and another to renovate the pavilions for an estimated $126,500.
"The pavilions are a top priority project for us," Maglicco said. Pavilions 1 and 2 date to the early 1900s and the city wants to preserve them, but those pavilions as well as the other five require significant repairs and upgrades, he said.
Inspections have found broken benches and picnic tables, roofs that leak, peeling paint and chipped or cracked concrete, Maglicco said.
"The condition of the pavilions is really discouraging their use," he said. "We really think that preserving these pavilions will actually draw more people to the park."
Parking at Renzie has been a problem for years, especially during events such as International Village and the summer concert series at the Lions Bandshell. But it's getting worse, Maglicco said.
"We have so many amenities being used at the same time that parking has become an issue," he said. "Especially with the addition of the dek hockey court. All of these things are becoming more popular."
Maglicco said that if the RAD board grants the city's capital funding request, officials want to add a parking lot on the space between the McKeesport Heritage Center and Sycamore Drive.
If the full request isn't granted, the city will prioritize, he said. "Our hope in 2018 is to either re-do all of the pavilions, or do a portion of the pavilions in 2018 and start engineering work for the parking lot," Maglicco said.
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of Eden Park Boulevard, work has begun on a one-mile expansion of the fitness trail and the creation of a two-acre dog park. A grand opening is projected in "late spring of 2018," Tedesco said.
McKeesport public works employees are clearing land and the city is soliciting bids for fencing, he said.
The city acquired the 27-acre "Palkovitz property" --- at one time, reportedly the site of a trash dump --- in 2010.
The new trail extension through the property will start at Lake Emilie, pass Heatherington Field, go around the dog park and back down toward the Sulfur Spring to Lake Emilie, Tedesco said. It will be wide enough to accommodate both joggers and bicycles, he said.
The county's grant funding will be used to purchase trail material, including gravel and asphalt, as well as for installation of chain link fencing, gates, posts and amenities for the dog park, such as waste containers, Tedesco said.
The dog park also will include installation of a concrete entrance pad and the construction of an auxiliary parking area, he said.
There will be three separate areas for dogs and their owners --- one reserved for small dogs, another for larger dogs and an open field that will be "rotated in and out of use," he said.
Tedesco said the new features being added to Renzie are designed to make the park more attractive to both residents and visitors.
"When you look over the last couple of years at the features that have been added to Renzie Park --- the spray park, dek hockey, renovations to the tennis courts and the basketball court, (air conditioning) at the main pavilion, we've done a lot to keep Renzie up to date," he said. "It really is a nice facility."
Originally published August 23, 2017.