About three years ago, Boulevard Heights resident Bobbie Spiller decided to put on her philanthropy hat and volunteer for a street-by-street cleanup of the neighborhood next door, Chosewood Park.

Spiller made friends that day, walked for about three miles picking up trash, and had a lightbulb moment alongside other volunteers: From where they stood, in order to get to Chosewood Park’s actually park—a 6-acre, wooded greenspace with a baseball field and tennis and basketball courts—it would require another mile of walking, well out of the way, though the park was within sight.

Spiller, a Keller Knapp Realty real estate consultant, joined the nonprofit Friends of Chosewood Park board, where the idea for a grassroots-funded bridge and other community-boosting amenities began to bounce.

“[The greenspace] is only accessible from the west side of the neighborhood,” says Spiller. “With the new bridge and walking trails, the north, east, and south side of the neighborhood will have much needed access to the park.”

Three years later, the organization has raised more than $3 million from fundraising events, developer donations, city funding, and recent grants from the likes of Park Pride and the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation. That includes $2.5 million for what they’re calling the Unity Bridge project, a Pond & Company-designed concept “the neighborhood loves but needs more funding for,” says Spiller.

Rendering for what neighbors call the Unity Bridge, a link into the Chosewood Park greenspace off Gault Street SE. Pond & Company; via Friends of Chosewood Park

Chosewood Park, like Boulevard Heights and other neighborhoods south of Grant Park, is being rapidly reshaped by development, with all sections of the BeltLine’s adjacent Southside Trail expected to be under construction next year.

According to Friends of Chosewood Park, the influx of development has created stormwater issues, with runoff now flowing directly into the park. Remediation, according to Spiller, will cost another $1 million. The ultimate goal, she says, is to build a retention pond similar to what’s found at Historic Fourth Ward Park.

“Working in real estate, I wanted to change the narrative that developers just come into the neighborhood, make their money, and leave,” says Spiller. “So I’ve reached out to some of the local developers in Chosewood to help with park improvements.”

Overview of potential playground plans. Friends of Chosewood Park; Integrated Land Design

Friends of Chosewood Park; Integrated Land Design

Grant monies will also go toward building a new playground, for which Spiller’s 3-year-old child helped select final designs. She’s also organizing a “huge” fundraiser for Jan. 24 next year to raise more working capital needed for designs and to apply for grants.

The fundraising goal that day: $100,000.

Overview of developments and greenspace expansion both planned and under construction in Chosewood Park, with proposed roads or extensions in yellow, and potential neighborhood pathways in dotted orange. Friends of Chosewood Park


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