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Dee Dee Ray couldn't stop dancing to the beat as the voice of Gloria Gaynor belted out "I Will Survive" over speakers set up in St. Paul's Central Village Park.

"This is what we need here," said Ray, swaying and gesturing to a growing National Night Out crowd last Tuesday evening at the center of St. Paul's old Rondo neighborhood. "Life. Children. Families. They are doing what this park was meant to do."

If Ray and other longtime residents have any sway, Central Village Park soon will be re-imagined, redesigned and remade into a more vibrant and welcoming space. Once the centerpiece of a 1970s housing development where hundreds of Rondo's original homes were bulldozed in the 1960s, Central Village Park has fallen on hard times.

Officials with the city and the Trust for Public Land are partnering with neighbors, the Summit-University Planning Council and Springboard for the Arts to transform the tired 50-year-old park into a newly bustling space, relevant to the neighborhood's increasingly diverse population.

While the 7-acre park is one of nearly 200 that have helped St. Paul's system win praise as one of the nation's best — in terms of access — Central Village lacks quality amenities and programming, said Susan Schmidt, the trust's Minnesota director.

"The sightlines aren't good, it's fallen into disrepair and people don't feel safe here," she said. "[Neighbors'] dream is to rebuild it. That it's used and loved and taken care of, not just by the city but by the neighborhood."

Eric Weiss, the trust's project manager for Central Village Park, said the work now is to collect information from residents about the types of facilities and services they want to see. After gathering that information, he said, work will pivot to finding the money to make it happen.

Weiss, who last Tuesday showed neighbors prospective ideas of what the park could be, noted that Central Village Park has an unmarked athletic field, but no buildings. It has new lights, but no electrical outlets. There are tennis courts, but no restrooms. He said he needed to check if the park's drinking fountain still works.

"It's been here half a century, and it's time for a fresh look," Weiss said. "The park hasn't always received the attention that it needs."

Gerald and Sharon Garth, who have lived in a nearby house on Aurora Avenue for 48 years, said the park once was the center of daily life among the split-levels and ranch-style homes that went up after Interstate 94 was finished.

They said they want to see the park, once home to barbecues and picnics in St. Paul's predominantly Black neighborhood, rediscover that magic in an area now home to families from many countries and speaking myriad languages.

"It needs to be attractive to many cultures, to the many new families who are here now," Gerald Garth said.

Sharon Garth said, "We want the park to be again what it was. It really was the place where the neighborhood gathered."

To Andy Rodriguez, St. Paul's new director of Parks and Recreation, one of the best ways to quickly bring Central Village Park up to speed is through the partnership with the Trust for Public Land. The organizations previously worked together to create Frogtown Park and Farm, the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary (also known as Wakan Tipi) and Midway Peace Park.

"The Trust for Public Land is a good partner and are advocates not only on this project, but others," Rodriguez said. "More can be done here. More is needed here. I think it's something we can chip away at."

On Tuesday, as neighbors walked their dogs or strolled hand in hand with their children past tables laden with hot dogs, chips and sambusas, the park's champions had little trouble envisioning what Central Village Park could be — perhaps soon.

"The city and the trust are doing a fantastic job, asking for our input and trying new things," Ray said. "What they are talking about, what they are doing, it builds up the neighborhood. And it enhances our property."