Roughly 200 people attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Penn Park on Madison’s south side Wednesday, marking the completion of the first in three phases of renovations. The million and half dollars spent on Penn Park’s renovations went towards a slew of improvements including a new concession and restroom facility along with reconfiguring the park’s centrally located bunker.

Community groups from Madison Water Utility, Madison-Area Urban Ministry and the Southside Raiders youth football program set up booths alongside the newly renovated bunker contributing to the strong community feel of the ceremony.

“I was proven wrong by my staff when they told me they could refurbish the bunker into something beautiful,” said Madison Parks’ superintendent Eric Knepp.

Mayor Paul Soglin, alongside Dane County Boys and Girls Club CEO Michael Johnson and several other key players in the Madison community, spoke to dozens of families in attendance about the significance of the park’s renovations for the South Side community and its future generations.

Alder Sheri Carter shared that these renovations are the “First of three phases” for Penn Park. Carter also gave a heartfelt history lesson on the struggles and earlier battles that were won in defense of the park. “Fifteen years ago there were many organizations that wanted to build a building where that football field is,” she said. “That park is bigger than this community, and we fought, and we achieved, and it was a long fight.”

Madison Community Foundation Vice President Tom Linfield said the park’s renovation is important to compliment other work happening in the community.

“The Urban League, Planned Parenthood and Access Community Health are all doing extraordinary things in the southside of Madison,” Linfield told Madison365 after the ceremony. Asked why MCF funded the renovations, Linfield said, “the importance of diversity, diversity in assets and diversity in the community.”

The Madison Community Foundation also donated several boxes of sports equipment and outdoor toys to the community’s children alongside food for the event. The Madison Police Department provided cops turned cooks who manned the grill to feed those in attendance.

Michael Johnson called up 40 children who donned Boys and Girls Club shirts to the front of the podium and said, “My message to young people that are up here today, this is your park, we need you to take care of this park and every year it should be looking better, and advocating for better resources.”

The Southside Raiders also received several mentions throughout the ceremony highlighting the program’s success for providing the community with a pipeline of access to both the collegiate and professional athletics spectrums.

Fifth-generation Madisonian and Division Chief of Organization & Community Liaison for the Madison Fire Department, Johnny Winston, Jr. whose mother was involved in the planning of Penn Park’s first Juneteenth celebration, said that though these renovations are significant.

“Penn Park still feels like home,” he said. “It still has its soul.”