Neighborhood leaders expressed concerns earlier this year after an uptick in gunfire. Mayor Jenny Durkan's proposed 2018 budget would allow the South Park Community Center to operate a Saturday late-night program year-round and would add Sunday hours and activities.
Seattle would add hours at the South Park Community Center on Saturday nights and Sundays under Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed budget, in a bid to better serve the city’s youngest neighborhood.
An uptick in gunfire late last year and early this year, including the fatal shooting of a teenager in February, brought urgency to concerns about public safety expressed to City Hall by community leaders.
People under 18 make up 30 percent of South Park’s population, twice the average for Seattle neighborhoods, according to census estimates, and night-time activities are limited in the neighborhood wedged between highways.
“The ultimate goal is to not have any youth violence happening,” said Carmen Martinez, coordinator for the area’s Duwamish Valley Youth Corps. “We’re tying to keep the kids in a positive place instead of hanging out on the street corner.”
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Residents have led the way in addressing the neighborhood’s challenges, marching for peace and training local young people to clean up graffiti, build rain gardens and plant trees. The city also has responded, spending about $1 million on various projects meant to make South Park’s streets and sidewalks safer.
The mayor in May announced the community center’s Friday 7 p.m.-to-midnight program would add Saturday nights on a trial basis, noting a panel of South Park leaders had recommended the city boost late-night activities at the center as a way to help keep teens safe.
The community center saw 139,000 visits overall and averaged 63 participants per session on Friday nights last year, up from 28 in 2014. This year’s Saturday-night trial ran from June 2 to Sept. 29 and averaged 18 participants per session, according to the parks department.
“We consider this a successful outcome for a brand-new program and we look forward to building attendance over time,” department spokeswoman Rachel Schulkin said.
All 27 Saturday-night participants who responded to a parks-department survey said they would like to visit again, Schulkin said.
Durkan’s proposed 2018 budget, under review by the City Council with a vote planned later this month, would allocate about $52,000 for the center to operate the Saturday late-night program year-round and would allocate another $39,000 to add Sunday hours and activities.
The center now is open for six hours on Sundays. Under the mayor’s budget, it would be open for eight hours and would offer activities such as piano lessons and dance classes, Schulkin said.
The move makes sense, but the impact will depend on whether the activities appeal to South Park teens, Martinez said. The parks department and community members must work together to make that happen, she said.
“It’s not enough to just open the doors,” Martinez said.
Police made an arrest in July in connection with the Feb. 7 killing of 16-year-old Dallas Esparza on a South Park street. Jose Macias, 27, has been charged with first-degree murder and first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm in connection with the fatal shooting.