“It only takes one person”: historic Mott Park Neighborhood residents come together to rejuvenate abandoned club house and grounds

By Tom Travis

“It just takes one person to have that vision or to have that love for their community. And that one person must be brave to step out and take the bull by the horns. It just takes one person and then they’ll gravitate and get other people involved. Even in a bad neighborhood, it takes just one person,” said Mott Park Neighborhood resident, Gennois Wiggins.

“And I would add that it starts with one person,” added another Mott Park resident, Chad Schlosser who works in campus ministry at UM-Flint.

Mott Park Recreation Area (MPRA) residents are aiming for a Saturday, June 25 grand opening of the freshly painted and renovated Mott Park club house, located at 2701 Nolen Dr. Flint.

Schlosser, who’s been leading the renovation effort over the last year, said the grand opening will include live music, food trucks and lots of festivities.

Built in 1963, the mid-century club house at the Mott Park Recreation Area is being renovated by local residents. (Photo by Tom Travis)

The MPRA is a registered non-profit governed by a board which includes: President Tom Saxton, Treasurer Bob Knox, and members Cal Chase, Denny Gardner, Paul Grasso, Chris Monk, Schlosser and Jack Stock.

Mott Park neighborhood residents have worked on the historic golf course since 2010. Since the course’s closing in 2009, residents have been tending, mowing and caring for the former 9-hole, 70-acre parkland. According to the MPRA members, more than 200 hours of volunteer hours annually provide for the maintenance and upkeep of the property.

Mott Park Recreation Area located at 2701 Nolan Drive, Flint. (Photo by Tom Travis)

“Something that’s been amazing to me in the last year is how many people and organizations want to play a role once we had an idea and a plan towards doing something like this,”  Schlosser said. “The Mayor’s office, the Parks and Recreation Department, Keep Genesee County Beautiful, Communities First, The Community Foundation of Greater Flint, Habitat for Humanity, Kettering University — so many different organizations have contributed.”

EVM sat down with a group of MPRA members to listen to their story of renovating the Mott Park club house.

MPRA President Tom Saxton (left), Gennois Wiggins (center) and Chad Schlosser (right) inside the recently renovated Mott Park club house. (Photo by Tom Travis)

Neighborhood projects “need to be driven by locals” – Schlosser

About a year ago, locals began thinking seriously about bringing the club house back to life.  It had sat vacant and boarded up since 2009, according to Schlosser.

He suggested that projects like the Mott Park Recreation Association (MPRA) and the club house renovation “need to be driven by locals.”

Describing himself  as a “community organizer,” Schlosser said he sees himself as connecting different organizations with the MPRA.

“These organizations want to know what neighbors want to do.  They’re not going to come in and just do something. So when residents and neighbors want to do something,  there is a lot of support out there.

MPRA and Mott Park neighborhood member Chad Schlosser. (Photo by Tom Travis)

That’s where people, I think, feel alone and these are insurmountable challenges. I can’t fund this and do this by myself. But we figured out who can help, who can play a role. It takes one person to start and be inspired,” Schlosser said.

Club house renovation means “crime prevention”

Schlosser said he sees the MPRA and the club house activities as “crime prevention.” “We can’t go out and stop people from committing crimes. But we can help to create a healthier environment for all residents in our neighborhood and that helps to prevent people from making bad choices. You give them opportunities to do things that are constructive,” he explained.

The MPRA listed top crime concerns for Mott Park as break-ins, shootings, traffic and speeding issues.

“Once you have programs for children, in a building, they take ownership. So once a child believes this is theirs, they’ll look out for you, they’ll call the police,” Wiggins added.

“Hey, we can’t let this go.” – MPRA member Tom Saxton

MPRA President Tom Saxton, a retired Women’s soccer coach at Michigan State University, recalled when the golf course closed and the club house was abandoned in 2009.  He said the golf course lawn had gone to seed and it would have been a million dollar project to restore the grounds.

President of the MPRA and Mott Park neighborhood resident Tom Saxton. (Photo by Tom Travis)

Saxton recalled a neighborhood meeting soon after the golf course closed. The city was under emergency management at the time. “We were all standing around here like, hey we can’t let this place go,” said Saxton.

That moment, Saxton said, planted the seed for folks to start meeting and form the non-profit Mott Park Recreation Association (MPRA).

“Not a lot of attention was given, initially, to the club house building. Some work was done to keep it from falling in disrepair. Chad and other residents have really been the catalyst in trying to getting something bigger going over the last year,” Saxton said.

Break-ins, vandalism and arson motivate residents

A few things coincided that, “made it seem like it was just the right time. One of the things was the club house at Pierce Park burning down, another incident was a bunch of kids breaking into this building and breaking a bunch of windows. Those kinds of events help me to realize the building was either going to go downhill or be improved. It wasn’t going to just stay neutral,” Schlosser said.

Wiggins said she came forward about that time and suggested it be made into a community center and offered her help.” A former program coordinator/director of the former Pierce Center, Wiggins has years of experience in working with senior citizens and youth.

Mott Park neighborhood resident Gennois Wiggins. (Photo by Tom Travis)

She said she dreams of the club house becoming a place for the community to enjoy the atmosphere and relax — especially for inner-city children to be able to take advantage of the facility.

“I don’t want it to become a wasteland,” she said.

Wiggins recalled Forest Park [now called Max Brandon Park], in Flint, that used to have “a craft house.” It was a place for children to come year-round to learn and do crafts including potter with the kiln that was located in the craft house. Wiggins said she hopes this club house in Mott Park can be the same thing for children in this neighborhood.

Schlosser said one of the first things he worked on was outside lighting. He worked with fellow Mott Park resident Denny Gardner to get the lighting surrounding the building and the grounds up and running. “We needed to brighten things up.”

Saxton noted the group has been in “crisis mode the last year because we were afraid once the heat’s gone the pipes will freeze.”

The group has made many improvements in just the last year. A $25,000 grant from the The Community Foundation of Greater Flint paid for a new roof, two new furnaces and two new air conditioners. Kettering University donated $1,300 for a new garage door.

From inside the club house the windows over look the beautiful 70-acres of parkland. (Photo by Tom Travis)

An anonymous donor gave $2,600 to replace 11 broken windows. Saxton added that about seven years ago the CFGF gave the MPRA a grant to for all new windows.

Schlosser estimated about $30,000 has been invested in the MPRA club house “and a whole lot of sweat equity by volunteers.” Not all the volunteers are Mott Park residents or even Flint residents. While EVM talked with the MPRA group a Grand Blanc resident, Jayne West was volunteering her time to paint a small utility room.

Volunteer Jayne West. (Photo by Tom Travis)

Schlosser, Wiggins and Saxton listed more than 20 residents, by name,  from Mott Park and Glendale Hills  who have volunteered doing work around the facility including plumbing, painting, clean-up, including Kettering students and local fraternities have helped out.

Volunteers also maintain the maintenance building, the bridges, fencing, trash disposal and security system for the property, according to Saxton.

Saxton has been on the MPRA for the last decade. “Our mission is attached to the whole property and we see this [the club house renovation] as a great addition,” he said.

“Our mission is to maintain and enhance this space from a golf course to a multi-use recreation space for community use.” Saxton said the annual flotilla ends in Mott Park each year noting that the group members are “tied into the Flint River Watershed as well.”

Some of the “multi-uses” for the property and club house are the disc-golf course that goes on all-year round, the designated Monarch Butterfly Waystation by the Monarch Joint Venture Association, bird identification classes for kids, sledding, residents walking their dogs, walkers and runners, trails in the woods. One neighbor wants to teach a Judo class,

The MPRA annually hosts the Turkey Trot, the oldest continuously run foot race in Michigan. “It’s not exclusively a disc-golf course, it’s more,” Saxton added.

“We plan on positive, construction activities where neighbors can meet each other and we can figure out how to work together to solve problems,” Schlosser said. “Having a physical space to do that will make a lot of difference. And maybe resolve some issues like when people only communicate through social media this will be a place and an opportunity for people to communicate face to face.”

Future neighborhood tool shed planned

In partnership with the Neighborhood Engagement Hub, a neighborhood tool shed is planned to be opened out of the basement.  Neighbors will be able to borrow lawn mowers, rakes, shovels, wheelbarrows, things they need to take care of their yards. “We’re trying to lower any barriers that people might have to being able to taking care of their property. We want it to flourish,” said Schlosser.

Mott Park Recreation Area. (Photo by Tom Travis)

A big goal this year is to address a problem water flow issue, Schlosser said. The MPRA needs to get water flowing away from the club house and towards the creek, he explained.

Schlosser said while the building is close to being ready to open,  the MPRA is waiting for City Council to approve a lease with the city. The resolution to approve that lease was on the council’s agenda in recent weeks. Last week the council voted to move the resolution back to committee where it’s now stalled until it can be moved back to a council meeting.

According to Schlosser the lease agreement will call for the MPRA to maintain and care for the former golf course property and club house.  A rental facility fee schedule is in the works and the MPRA hopes to be able to rent the club house and the property for neighborhood meetings, open houses, weddings and other events.

EVM Managing Editor Tom Travis can be reached at tomntravis@gmail.com.

Author: Tom Travis

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