Salt Lake City officials celebrate new safety improvements at Pioneer Park

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mayor Jackie Biskupski takes a turn as goalkeeper against her son Archie, 9, on the new multi-use field at Pioneer Park on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019. Salt Lake CityÕs Parks and Public Lands Division invited the public to attend a jubilee in celebration of the recently completed improvements at park, including enhanced lighting, a new walking path and trees and increased recreation and event programming for visitors and residents.

Standing under a stormy sky Tuesday, Salt Lake City officials hosted a celebration to mark a number of improvements to Pioneer Park, including the completion of a new multipurpose soccer field, a walking path and new safety lighting.

Construction on the park upgrades began last summer in an effort to enhance security in the park, which is located less than a mile from The Road Home emergency homeless shelter in the Rio Grande neighborhood and has long been seen as a hub for illegal activity and drug use.

The total cost for improvements was just under $1 million, with $300,000 provided by the Pioneer Park Coalition, which advocates for the downtown neighborhood, and the rest coming from the city’s capital improvement program and the Redevelopment Agency, according to the city.

“Together we’ve finished the first step of this project,” Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said at a news conference at the park Tuesday evening as children kicked a soccer ball around on the new field behind her. “With an additional $3.4 million of city funding recently approved, we have the opportunity to make Pioneer Park what it should be: Salt Lake City’s premier urban core green space.”

The council recently earmarked additional funds through parks impact fees for design and reconstruction of the park. While there’s no specific timeline for those updates, they will need to be completed within a three-year timeframe created for capital improvement projects to ensure they are fully funded and built before costs increase.

Specifics for the next phase of changes to Pioneer Park will be informed by public engagement, said Lisa Shaffer, the city’s director of Public Services. But a draft proposal calls for an estimated $1,500,000 for restrooms, an information kiosk and park host station, and historical interpretation signs and concessions. Around $1,000,000 could be used for food truck access and to facilitate opportunities for event programming like local music, yoga and fitness events, and arts and cultural activities.

Those future additions will “work together well with the amenities dedicated today,” Salt Lake City Council Chairman Charlie Luke said at the news conference.

As part of the updates to the park unveiled Tuesday, the city removed the existing bathrooms, which have been long out of commission and took out existing trees within the project area, which were in poor health and were a species that’s susceptible to disease. Two-dozen sycamore trees were planted to ring the new field, and a new irrigation system will keep them healthy, Biskupski said.

Changes to the park come just weeks ahead of the upcoming closure of The Road Home shelter downtown less than a block away, which coincides with the opening of three new homeless resource centers, two in Salt Lake City and one in South Salt Lake, that will focus on providing services for the community.

To “kick off” the Pioneer Park event, Biskupski kicked several goals against the professional Utah Royals’ soccer team goalie Nicole Barnhart.

The “jubilee” also featured vendors from the Tuesday Downtown Farmer’s Market, appearances from Barnhart and several other Utah Royals FC players, a community art truck that attendees could color and write within, historical pictures and information about the park on display by the Pioneer Park Coalition and a spikeball tournament hosed by the Utah Roundnet Association.