WILLOWBROOK — Iconic NBA star Magic Johnson was on hand March 9 for the ground-breaking celebration on a $70 million renovation project at Earvin “Magic” Johnson Recreation Area.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and other officials from the Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation Department were on hand for the event.
“I’m excited about this significant investment by Los Angeles County which provides a safe, scenic space for Willowbrook residents and increases the community’s engagement with the park,” Johnson said.
The lake that is currently the highlight of the park will be getting a new feature that will help address both water conservation and water quality goals. The proposed plan will divert storm runoff from surrounding neighborhoods and nearby Compton Creek, clean it and then use it to fill the lower lake and irrigate 30 acres of the park, creating a wetland experience for park goers.
The project, slated for completion in fall 2020, includes a 20,000-square foot state-of-the-art community events center for holding weddings, conferences and other large gatherings; an outdoor wedding pavilion, a splash pad and children’s play areas, improved walking paths with security lighting, and acres upon acres of new landscaping that will give the park an entirely fresh look.
Curious residents filled the large white tent early in the morning to hear and see what new changes were being made to their local park.
The ceremony began with a welcome from Ridley-Thomas and a performance of “America the Beautiful” from the Athens Park Tiny Tots.
Speakers included Mark Stanley, executive director of the San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy, Mark Pestrella, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, Monique King-Viehland, director of the Los Angeles County Community Development Commission, John Wicker, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation, community leader Sweet Alice Harris, and Michael Govan, chief executive officer of Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
“For almost 25 years, the Magic Johnson Park has been used for daily exercise, family outings, and celebrations,” said Johnson, after whom the park was named in 1994 following his retirement from the NBA.
To the right of the stage was the lake fenced off with a no trespassing sign.
And behind the stage were a handful of protestors, who claimed the soil and water is contaminated and has been the cause of several deaths. No comments were given by officials.
“We are making magic at Magic Johnson Park, and the result is going to be visionary,” Ridley-Thomas said. “Besides providing amenities that currently don’t exist in this community, we are enhancing the beauty of this space and creating opportunities to strengthen the bonds of this community. These improvements will be nothing short of transformative.”
The renovation project is expected to create hundreds of jobs. The county hired contractor S.J. Amoroso Construction Company to build the project and required that 30 percent of all construction hours be rendered by local residents living within five miles of the park, or in zip codes countywide that have high poverty rates.
County Parks and Recreation Director John Wicker said there was a comprehensive and community-driven process to prioritize new amenities for Magic Johnson Park.
“We are grateful to Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and partners that are committed to developing and investing in this new, state-of-the-art facility,” he said. “As a collective, we will build a park for the Willowbrook community to be active and participate in the year-round programs, as well as come together to make memories that will last a lifetime.”
Longtime resident and community leader “Sweet” Alice Harris said, “This investment in Magic Johnson Park, and the greater community, is nothing short of a blessing.”