Sidney Marcus Park renovation garners community support


Courtesy of The Friends of Sidney Marcus Park Conservancy

The rendering displays the current plans for the renovation of Sidney Marcus Park.

Molly Thompson

Sidney Marcus Park is a gathering place for people of all ages to socialize and have fun, as a cornerstone of the Morningside community. After raising 200,000 dollars, the Friends of Sidney Marcus Park conservancy officially started the renovation of the park.

On May 4, 1965 the Morningside/Lenox Park Association (MLPA) was founded to fight the plans to build I-485 through the neighborhood. I-485 was a six-lane interstate that would barrel through the heart of neighborhoods such as Morningside, Virginia Highlands and Poncey Highlands.

“I’m so glad that [the highway] was put to a stop, because it would have ruined the neighborhood,” longtime Morningside resident Maryland Mcginnis said.

Despite the seemingly impossible task, the neighborhood fought to stop the highway from drastically impacting the community. Houses were destroyed and neighborhoods demolished — but finally in 1973, plans to build I-485 were abandoned. Orme park, Freedom Park, John Howell Park and Sidney Marcus Park are all products of the condemned properties from the I-485 plans.

“It turned out to be fortuitous because the houses were taken down, and it opened up some green space for the families” Mcginnis said.

Mcginnis and her husband, Clay Bristow, have lived in Morningside since 1986. They have always loved the park and the community gathering space it has created. However, they have noticed a few problems.

“The park from Sherwood was kinda swampy if it rained, it is still that way” Mcginnis said.

In 2020, the Friends of Sidney Marcus Park (FoSMP) conservancy started a fundraiser to get money to renovate the park. Founded in May of 2017 by John Pappas, FoSMPs mission is to provide community awareness, financial support, historical relevance and supervision for the evolution and preservation of Sidney Marcus Park. They hope that with this renovation they can develop a park that is attractive, safe and useful.

“It is amazing how many people use this park. It is well loved,” Pappas said, “We want to make it a little more resilient and make it nicer. We need to find a way to get some greenery in here and get rid of all that mud on the playscape.”

FoSMP raised 100,000 dollars through fundraisers and donations. They then received another 100,000 dollars from Park Pride’s Legacy grant. This grant matched them dollar for dollar if they raised 100,000 dollars.

“We were awarded a 100,000 dollar matching grant called the Legacy Grant from Park Pride, so what that meant is we had to pitch in 100,000 dollars, so we had to raise 100,000 dollars, which we did through a capital campaign.” Pappas said

Expecting to take three months, the project consists of french drains, bio gardens, a new boardwalk, new benches and swings, an amphitheater and other improvements. The contractor, Integrated Land Design, has recently begun the work on the lower level or “field” of the park.

“The renovation is much needed,” Morningside parent Julie Mitchell said, “It can get very muddy after rain and make it hard to enjoy all the space, so it’ll be very welcomed.”

Sidney Marcus park is not used by just kids, but families and adults as well.

“The park brings lots of neighbors together and creates a welcoming place for everybody to meet new neighbors and make new friends,” Mitchell said.

The park is a regular host of birthday parties, park clean ups, food drives, concerts and movie nights.

“I think having a popular playground is such a win for the neighborhood,” frequent park-goer Kelli Sterrett said. “People drive from outside the neighborhood. We technically live in Virginia Highland, and we come to this park. There’s people that come from Druid Hills.”

Addressing the park’s drainage and erosion issues and giving the whole area an upgraded look helps give the park the opportunity to continue to serve the neighborhood.

“It is a small park,” Mcginnis said, “But I think it serves a great purpose.”