O’FALLON PARK – Just six years after building a deluxe YMCA recreation complex, O’Fallon Park is about to make another big splash: the reopening of its boathouse.
The city announced last year a $1.2 million beautification project. Renovation of the once-popular park amenity began in May and is scheduled to be completed in September. That’s according to 21st Ward Alderman John Collins-Muhammad, who began working toward the boathouse renovation in 2017 when he took office.
“This renovation project will improve the facade and beauty of our park while maintaining its cultural history and preservation,” he said.
The project is approximately 25 to 30 percent complete, according to Greg Hayes, the city’s director of parks, recreation and forestry.
Interior demolition including the utility room and restrooms is complete, and plumbing has begun. Clay tiles on the roof have been removed and replaced as well as old gutters and metal fascia and soffit.
Refurbishment of the boathouse is being funded by the municipality’s general funds and the 21st Ward’s capital improvement fund.
Along with boat rides on the eye-catching lake, there are plans for a concession stand, lobby and lower-level game room. Fishing will still be allowed, but not while boating.
“We have one of the most visited parks in the state of Missouri that attracts people from all over the region. It’s imperative that we invest in our park – it’s a historical gem in our city,” the alderman said.
In recent years, park goers have seen upgrades to the basketball and tennis courts. A state-of-the-art, handicapped-accessible playground, also recently built in the park, was spearhead by Muhammad’s predecessor, Antonio French, publisher of this newspaper, the SouthSider and MetroSTL.com.
Muhammad said, “When I came into office, I made it my mission to promote and develop more programming, youth activities in this park, and we have accomplished that.”
The park has also continued to host community events such as the Taste of Africa. The family-centered event reintroduces and celebrates African culture, including cuisine, art, music, dancing, jewelry, fabric and fashion. The second annual festival is set for the weekend of Aug. 31-Sept. 1.
Walnut Park resident Michael Brooks, who was fishing last week near the boathouse, said remembered when north city parks were alive and vibrant and full of daily activity.
“I like the idea that they’re putting money back in the park,” he said regarding the boathouse. “It’ll bring bring a lot of attention and revenue, and it will be a vital part of St. Louis.”
Living just two blocks away, educator Carlet Studamire said reopening the boathouse was a great idea.
“It’ll be something for the entire family to do without having to go all the way over to Forest Park,” she said. “We need something like that.”
However, both Studamire and Brooks said safety must be a priority.
“It has to be safe, but I know sometimes things happen. But we can’t let that stop us from having something good,” Studamire said.
The alderman himself had safety and park-abuse concerns last year when he temporarily shut the park down after seeing a few drug deals, car accidents and children playing on the roof of the boathouse.
Today, those occurrences are pretty much water under the bridge. Muhammad worked directly with St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Dist. Capt. Perri Johnson in developing new enforcement strategies.
“We have increased police and park ranger patrols … especially on the weekends,which is when we see the most illegal behavior occurring,” Muhammad said, adding that the park was cleaned daily.
“We are doing some exciting things,” Muhammad said.