New basketball court coming to Civic Center Park

Oakland County continues to invest in local green space

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison-Park News | Published September 4, 2023

 A view of a play structure at Ambassador Park in Madison Heights. The Oakland County Parks will be incorporating the park into its Red Oaks system, making improvements such as new play areas. Recently, the county also awarded a grant to improve the city-owned Civic Center Park, replacing the basketball court there.

A view of a play structure at Ambassador Park in Madison Heights. The Oakland County Parks will be incorporating the park into its Red Oaks system, making improvements such as new play areas. Recently, the county also awarded a grant to improve the city-owned Civic Center Park, replacing the basketball court there.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


MADISON HEIGHTS — The city of Madison Heights is among nearly a dozen communities that have been awarded park grants through Oakland County. City officials say the Madison Heights grant will pay for a “vibrant” new basketball court at one of the most prominent parks in town.

The grant is worth $22,500 and will cover the replacement of the court at Civic Center Park, 360 W. 13 Mile Road. Ten other communities also received grants, part of the 2023 Oakland County Parks Community Grant Program. Nearly $608,200 was awarded in total.

“This is phenomenal. I played on that court when it was brand new. It’s been awhile, and I’m not the same guy shooting a basketball as I was back then,” said Mark Bliss, the mayor pro tem of Madison Heights. “This is long overdue. But the concept isn’t just another basketball court. This is going to be bright and vibrant, and an incredible visual addition to the park, not just a standard concrete basketball court.”

Bliss said he expects work will begin as early as March. He said that the new court will further cement Civic Center Park as a marquee destination in Madison Heights. The park also hosts popular events such as the Pre-Fourth of July Festival in Parks, and this month’s Trail Tunes.

For the city of Madison Heights — home to county parks including the Red Oaks Waterpark and Red Oaks Nature Center — the gift also represents an ongoing investment in its green spaces.

Toya Aaron, a member of the Madison Heights City Council, thanked Oakland County Commissioner Gary McGillivray for his support of the grant. She noted that the county is in the process of implementing improvements at Ambassador Park, 600 E. 13 Mile Road. She anticipates features such as the addition of play equipment compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“The way I look at Madison Heights is it’s a growing city, so we need multigenerational parks that represent the entire family, and our commissioner, Gary McGillivray, he went back (to the county) and told them what we need at Ambassador Park,” Aaron said.

According to Donna Folland, the supervisor for planning and resource development at the Oakland County Parks, one feature of the revamped Ambassador Park will be the “Gary McGillivray Play Garden,” where the new play structures will be located. Other elements will be added throughout 2024 and 2025.

“The concept for the park envisions both active and quiet areas throughout a network of trails, play features, pollinator gardens and trees,” Folland said via email. “Enjoyment of the park and play by multiple generations is central to this vision.”

The Ambassador Park project is part of the county’s Healthy Communities Park and Outdoor Recreation Investment Plan, funded by the county’s share of state and federal dollars through the American Rescue Plan.

Ambassador Park will be incorporated into the Red Oaks Park system. The county is planning to invest at least $1 million in improvements there, taking feedback from city staff and residents.

One example of the county incorporating a former city property is the nature center at 30300 Hales St. in Suarez Friendship Woods, across from the Red Oaks Waterpark on 13 Mile Road west of Dequindre Road. The county entered into a lease agreement with the city to operate the rebranded Red Oaks Nature Center in 2012.

That deal, brokered by McGillivray, helped rescue the facility during the Great Recession when the city of Madison Heights didn’t have the funds to continue operations there. In the time since, Oakland County Parks has fully staffed the nature center and kept it open to the public with a complete schedule of programs.

The trail network there has also been improved with new features such as the Storybook Trail, and the county continues to take care of the woodland ecosystem, managing invasive species and protecting native wildlife.

Meanwhile, at the nearby Red Oaks Waterpark, the popular summertime destination recently received a new children’s splash pad, dubbed SplashTown, featuring 52 interactive water features.

There is also a 0.38-mile connector trail between 13 Mile and Dequindre roads that connects the waterpark with the adjacent Red Oaks Dog Park and the Red Oaks Nature Center. The county also counts the Red Oaks Golf Course among its Madison Heights offerings.

The basketball court, funded by the 2023 community grant, is just the latest example of the county’s longstanding partnership with the city. Folland said that municipalities were able to apply in March, seeking up to $100,000 apiece. The county received 30 applications, requesting a combined total of nearly $2 million.

It then fell to a team at the county to consider each application based on factors such as community need, maintenance costs and accessibility to people of all abilities.

Another important criterion the county evaluated was how each project would incorporate the Oakland County Parks’ “Core Values” of diversity, equity and inclusion; environmental sustainability and natural resources stewardship; and health and wellness.

Sean Fleming, a member of the Madison Heights City Council, said his goal for the city’s parks is to make the parks fully accessible to people of all ability levels.

He said this should include hard surfaces around play structures that can safely absorb falls without the use of wood chips that make it difficult for users in wheelchairs to access.

He said he also appreciates the county’s continued support for the nature center, in particular.

“To me, it’s a great place to take time to exercise and de-stress,” Fleming said. “With there being so much stress and anxiety from everything going on in the world today, the nature center is the perfect place to breathe some fresh air and work on your mental health.”