A dog park, musical playground and operational community theater in Kenmore.

Public WiFi, football and longer pool hours in Goodyear Heights.

Anything at all on a patch of tall grass in West Akron.

Three neighborhoods are dreaming big after winning $100,000 grants to make over their city-owned parks.

In a shift toward empowering residents, Akron city government is leveraging its limited resources to rally the people around their public assets. This year, in conjunction with the launch of the Akron Parks Collaborative, the city is funding up to $100,000 each in projects at Reservoir Park in Goodyear Heights, Chestnut Ridge in Kenmore and Cadillac Triangle in West Akron.

While the city is putting up the money, the residents will oversee the work, from planning and budgeting to hiring contractors.

The first Akron Parks Challenge grant, open to all residents, attracted 69 applicants vying for two $100,000 grants. With so much interest, the city added a third winner, using $75,000 in capital funds already earmarked for the Kenmore park. The Knight Foundation provided $35,000.

The strategic grant process, along with narrowing down projects, has given the city a better understanding of what the people want. “By crowdsourcing ideas, the city now has new neighborhood partners to engage with and incredible data on how citizens want to use Akron parks,” James Hardy, deputy mayor for the new Office of Integrated Development, said in announcing first-year winners this month.

“We were truly blown away with the quality of the submissions from residents,” said Bridget Ambrisco, who runs the Akron Parks Collaborative.

All work is expected to be done by next summer. Grant winners will engage their local communities this summer and fall before finalizing projects for each park.

Cadillac Triangle

Like his father and grandfather, Recarlton “Rick” Buchanan Jr. grew up watching the grass grow on Cadillac Triangle.

“As you can see, the city does a great job cutting the grass,” Buchanan said, standing in the tall grass.

One of the three grant winners, Buchanan is picturing a more vibrant future for the wedge-shaped “pocket park.” In his mind, he's painting this blank canvass with brick walkways, stone benches and winding waist-high walls. There's space for the Akron Symphony Orchestra to perform and room for an urban farmers' market.

“Right now, it's just wasted space,” he said. “But the real reason that we're doing this is to give vitality to the neighborhood.”

Gladys Oyelese, a retiree who lives next door, said the neighborhood is full of “keepers.” They keep up lawns and maintain homes in a neighborhood with few renters and falling home values. Something more than an empty patch of grass would complement their efforts.

Tramontary McWain, another neighbor, looks forward to anything at the park. He remembers climbing apple trees there as a youth, trying to impress girls. That was before he got into trouble with the law.

Having a park less than a mile away would make a positive impact on the community, he said, recalling a group of kids he saw fighting at Cadillac Park two weeks ago. “Why are they fighting when they could be playing?” he asked.

Chestnut Ridge

Obviously, whoever engineered the I-76 Kenmore Leg wasn't thinking of Chestnut Ridge.

Today, the incessant hum of the highway traffic pollutes the park's tranquil beauty: towering white oak trees, a picturesque old amphitheater.

Beneath the community theater's stony stage, which hasn't been used for about a decade, two dressing room doors are walled in like a sealed-off catacomb. Most days, nobody uses the aging playground and slate-roofed pavilion.

“These blocks are lined with families that have children,” said Irene Mack-Shafer, who grew up three streets away. “But there's no programming here.”

Mack-Shafer, a costume design manager at the University of Akron, jumped on board when she discovered that Angela Miller, a retired grant writer, was seeking $100,000 to activate the park. About a dozen residents have added their voices.

Miller, a founding member of the Kenmore Neighborhood Alliance, hopes the money will go far enough to:

• Provide electricity for amphitheater lighting and sound.

• Add a sound barrier to silence highway traffic.

• Reopen the theater dressing rooms.

• Rent or install bathroom facilities.

• Add a dog park.

• And replace the old playground with one that children can play like a musical instrument.

To prioritize the ideas, the women are creating Friends of Chestnut Ridge Committee, which will oversee maintenance and programming. Volunteers can join by emailing kenmorekreative@gmail.com.

“We're here to activate the space so neighbors get to know each other,” Miller said. “With just these improvements, we could rock this place.”

Reservoir Park

Sharon Connor, president of Residents Improving Goodyear Heights Together, faced stiffer competition than most.

Her Akron Parks Challenge application, submitted on behalf of the R.I.G.H.T. Committee, went toe to toe with 24 others who use Reservoir Park.

One of the largest recreational areas in the city, Reservoir Park has just about everything: four tennis courts, four baseball fields, four basketball courts, two pavilions and one of the city's two outdoor swimming pools.

But the park — built in the 1930s for a growing city — doesn't reflect the needs of an aging Goodyear Heights with young families. The local youth baseball league folded a few years back. The pool opens later than seniors might like. And the sidewalks are too uneven to walk, Connor said.

“We need to make the park fit that [new demographic],” Connor said of her changing neighborhood.

The R.I.G.H.T. Committee will use community meetings and surveys this summer to let the public rank the following projects:

• Free public Wifi.

• A permanent football field, instead of so many baseball fields.

• More seating and shade by the pool.

• Picnic tables/seating by the community center.

• Flowers in the planters.

• More trash cans and drinking fountains.

• A walking path circling the entire park.

• And a larger youth playground.

It's all “pie in the sky at this point,” said Connor, who expects the funding to only go so far. “Right now, it's so exciting because we don't know how much anything is going to cost. So we can dream up anything.”

Connor, who is taking suggestions, can be reached at sconnor1@neo.rr.com or 330-784-6623.

Reach Doug Livingston at 330-996-3792 or dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him @ABJDoug on Twitter or www.facebook.com/doug.livingston.92 on Facebook.