A neighborhood transformed to go out and play.

How Spark CDI is a partner in revitalizing the Brown Park neighborhood through a unique, collaborative, and community-based approach.

You wouldn’t know from looking at it, but Brown Park in South Omaha is home to a historic diamond — a baseball diamond — that’s been in use for more than 100 years. Babe Ruth once played there. So did Lou Gehrig and Ty Cobb. 

If you’re a local baseball fan, it’s likely you’re already familiar with the baseball field’s history. You may have even visited the field after it was renovated and renamed John Stella Field in honor of the longtime South Omaha baseball booster. At the very least, you may have caught a news story about it. What you may not be familiar with is the actual park that houses John Stella Field — Brown Park, a 12-acre neighborhood park with pretty hills and great potential. It’s gone mostly unused and neglected for many years. It certainly hasn’t gotten the same level of attention and interest as the baseball field. 

“Brown Park is the center point of the neighborhood but hasn’t seen any level of investment in about 20 or 30 years. It’s not because residents don’t care about it — trust me, they have been very vocal about how much they love the park — but they didn’t know how to gain traction with city officials and outside investors to initiate planning and raise the funds needed for renovations.”

Jamie Berglund
Spark CDI Executive Director

Spark CDI is a nonprofit organization that serves neighborhoods in Omaha and Council Bluffs with the greatest need for investment and the highest potential for success. As a CDI — community development intermediary — Spark is the catalyst for neighborhood revitalization and transformation projects, and the connection point between community residents and stakeholders, developers, financial institutions, government entities, and community service providers. Spark brings together the right mix of people and institutions to communicate and collaborate on projects from start to finish.

The types of neighborhoods that Spark approaches are those with an established foundation of amenities, like multiple transportation options, a mix of housing available to different income levels, and great schools — neighborhoods just like Brown Park.

“We approached the residents and stakeholders in the Brown Park neighborhood and asked what they needed in order to improve the quality of life within their community. Overwhelmingly, people wanted to renovate the park, to take it from a largely neglected green space and turn it into a welcoming place for families, neighbors, and friends.”

Jamie Berglund
Spark CDI Executive Director

With the Brown Park revitalization project, Spark worked with residents, Heartland Workers Center, Omaha Community Foundation, and the City Parks Department to create a roadmap for park renovations. Many hours were spent on planning, neighborhood surveys, community meetings, and more planning. Currently, blueprints for the park renovations have been finalized, a few neighborhood park cleanups have taken place, and the goal is to have the first phase of park improvements begin next year. The new design takes advantage of the park’s natural topography. Park-goers can look forward to an updated kids’ playground, and plenty of picnic tables and a shelter area.

“I’m excited to see the improvements to the pavilion and the playground, and the little ones being able to enjoy it,” said Vincente Cruz, a long-time neighborhood resident. “I’m also looking forward to seeing a reduction in the safety concerns in our neighborhood.”

With a $300,000, three-year operating grant from the Peter Kiewit Foundation, Spark is able to invest more in its people and office, so it can continue to fulfill its mission of profoundly transforming disinvested neighborhoods into thriving and prosperous communities.