It was a picture-perfect Friday afternoon, as hundreds turned out for the long-anticipated official opening of Edmonds new Civic Park and Playfield, a facility destined to become a crown jewel for the city and a destination for the region.
“This celebration was literally decades in the making,” said Edmonds Parks, Recreations and Human Services Director Angie Feser as she welcomed attendees to the ribbon-cutting. “Today we open our downtown legacy park, an amenity that promises to contribute to our community identity, be a source of civic pride, promote active lifestyles, boost the local economy, draw visitors from throughout the region, and bolster Edmonds’ reputation as a Puget Sound-area destination.”
“This $22 million endeavor was built on the dreams and vision of the Edmonds community, the support of our funding partners, the commitment of our city council and leadership, and the hard work of the architects, engineers, contractors, laborers and city staff,” she added.
The 8-acre site had formerly been leased by the city from the Edmonds School District, which allowed the city to operate and maintain the park for 40 years. In 2016, Edmonds signed a purchase agreement with the district to buy the park, and immediately dove into developing a master plan. The vision was to secure for Edmonds one of those rare and treasured commodities that mark great cities like New York, San Francisco, Berlin, London, Paris and Rome – a centrally-located urban park.
With the master plan complete, the project was bid and work begun in August 2020.
“And look where we are today,” said Feser. “Right here in front of you, you see our dreams and commitment realized. We did it Edmonds!”
Feser’s remarks were followed by comments from Mayor Mike Nelson, who expressed particular thanks to former mayor Dave Earling and former parks director Carrie Hite for crafting the vision and championing the project.
Other officials making remarks included State Recreation and Conservation Office Director Megan Duffy, 21st District Sen. Marko Liias, 21st District Rep. and County Councilmember Strom Peterson, 32nd District Rep. Cindy Ryu, and Hazel Miller Foundation board member Maria Montalvo. All expressed enthusiastic congratulations and enthusiasm for the new park.
Then it was time for officials to gather and cut ribbon – with Mayor Nelson wielding the ceremonial scissors — to open the park to all.
But that wasn’t the only ribbon cutting.
On the opposite side of the field from the official ceremonies, a smaller, heartfelt and emotional ribbon-cutting officially opened Mika’s Playground, an inclusive playground designed to encourage children of all abilities to play together, make friends and thereby enrich each other’s lives.
The playground is named for Mika Zimbalist, who was born with cerebral palsy and died in February 2019 at age 11. Despite remaining non-verbal, in those 11 years he changed many lives and left a lasting impression on all with whom he came in contact.
Mika’s family was on hand to participate in the dedication, during which his father Efrem — occasionally overcome with emotion — spoke of his son’s life and legacy.
“When Mika was born and we learned of his CP, we were heartbroken and scared,” he said. “But when it became evident that he would be in a wheelchair and non-verbal his entire life, my wife Mumtaz and I resolved that despite this we would give him the same experiences as other children and hold him to the same standards.”
Mika was a regular in his school classroom and made many friends. Other children would want to be on his team for math, reading and at recess – and despite his inability to speak, he and his classmates communicated beautifully.
“Mika loved being outside,” Zimbalist continued. “His face would light up when he knew we were going to a playground, and he always wanted to be pushed higher on the swing. But as he got older, he became more self-conscious about his difficulty maneuvering through the playground with his walker or wheelchair.
“He passed away shortly before his 11th birthday. We were shocked and overcome with grief,” he explained. “We were truly surprised at the 500 people who showed up at his memorial, many speaking of the special ways he had touched their lives.”
As the family processed their loss, they resolved that an inclusive playground dedicated to his memory would be a fitting way to honor Mika’s life, and Mumtaz began calling various cities and organizations about how this could happen.
“It was our great good fortune to learn that Civic Park Playfield had already been approved, and that the City of Edmonds was on board with the idea of making it an inclusive playground,” he said.
And with significant help from the Rotary Club of Edmonds – and club member Alison Pence, in particular – funding was secured, clearing the way for the project to become a reality.
“And here we are today at the opening of an inclusive playground named after our son,” Zimbalist concluded.
As officials lined up for the ribbon-cutting, Mayor Nelson passed the scissors to Mika’s sisters Laila and Sofia who sliced through the bright blue ribbon in memory of their brother, who touched so many lives and through this playground is destined to touch many more.
— Story and photos by Larry Vogel