NFL and partners renovate Westside Park as part of Super Bowl project

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Thursday celebrated the renovation of a park in the historic Vine City neighborhood, a gift commemorating Super Bowl 53.

The NFL Foundation, the Atlanta Super Bowl Host Committee and the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation are among supporters of the nearly $2.5 million upgrade of John F. Kennedy Park, which includes a new artificial turf field and playground. The park, a mile northwest of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, is next to Hollis Innovation Academy and will be used by pupils and Westside residents.

Blank also credited the late City Councilman Ivory Lee Young, who, along with residents, helped develop the vision for the park.

“Kids, we know, need to spend more time away from technology and more time outside,” Blank said. “I’ve got six of my own, and I understand the issue of technology and kids — and adults and technology too, for that matter.”

The Blank Foundation, Chick-fil-A Foundation and the Westside Future Fund are part of a coalition of groups working to revitalize neighborhoods west of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The $1.5 billion stadium, where the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots will face off Sunday, was built with $200 million in public financing upfront. A portion of the city’s hotel-motel sales taxes will fund $700 million to $900 million in stadium upkeep costs for the next three decades, based on current hospitality tax collections.

Blank has committed $30 million to neighborhood revitalization efforts, with the city chipping in $15 million. Those dollars have attracted tens of millions in additional charitable and government grants to improve public safety, job training and preserve and create affordable housing.

The effort is a work in progress, though it has notched wins in education, infrastructure improvements and new affordable housing units. But real estate speculation risks pricing out longtime residents.

Bottoms said she used to take ballet at Hollis when it was known as Kennedy Middle School. It was an oasis for her during times of family turmoil.

“The children who will play on these fields will grow to be something more than you all could ever imagine,” she said, her voice breaking. “You probably cannot begin to understand what it means to this community to have a safe place and space that you long to return to.”