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DIGGING DEEPER: Park with troubled past seeing major improvement

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TUCSON (KVOA) - After years of complaints from neighbors, a city park just north of downtown is undergoing a major turnaround.

Anza Park is located at the corner of Speedway and Stone, at the gateway to downtown, Pima College and the University of Arizona. 

Over the years, the park has developed a reputation as a hot spot for drug dealers and people experiencing homelessness.

All that is starting to change.

For people living in the neighborhoods around Anza Park, the past several years have been frustrating.

The playground and other areas had been overtaken by drug dealers, and the park had simply become unsafe.

"No one was really taking ownership over the park, and the neighborhood really needed to have somebody besides criminals here," said Judy Sensibar, president of the West University Neighborhood Association.            

As neighbors grew more concerned about the park's problems, Tucson Police began focusing their efforts on getting rid of the criminal elements there, including people dealing meth and other drugs.

Officers from TPD's Mental Health Support and Park Safety teams have also been focused on turning things around.

"We have offered assistance for homeless outreach. We've offered substance use resources, as well, so we're not just kicking them out of the park," Tucson Police Lt. Belinda Morales told the Digging Deeper team. "We're giving them what they need to be successful as well. 

Construction for a dog park started back in March as part of Proposition 407, and that $180,000 project is now complete.

The city will also be building new restrooms to replace the ones that are damaged, and they are also working to come up with additional funding for new ramadas. 

"A big part of the improvements is safety and security; and then our side for the parks department," said Tom Fisher, project director with the Tucson Parks and Recreation Department. "Our goal is to activate the park, and sort of take it back from troublemakers."

Tucson Police say things are getting much better at Anza Park, and the most serious crimes in the area have dropped since officers stepped up enforcement.

TPD also credits community involvement in helping make the park safe for everyone.

"It's contagious, and having this park available to the area residents, it brings a different quality of life." Lt. Morales said.

The grand opening of the new dog park is set for this Friday, Sept. 10 at 11 a.m. 

Paul Birmingham

Paul Birmingham is an Investigative Producer for KVOA News 4 Tucson. He is a three time Edward R. Murrow award winner, native Tucsonan, and a proud Arizona Wildcat.

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