Dad's inspiration leads to a place for the kids to play


John Sampone Jr. was so inspired by his father's dedication to the city's youth that he decided to follow in his footsteps.

Sampone created a plan years ago to create a park for children on the South Side of Amsterdam to memorialize his late father, John Sampone Sr.

"I grew up on the South Side," he said. "There isn't any place for the kids to play and I want to give them that [opportunity.]"

He said the park would go in a vacant lot at the corner of Bridge and Center streets.

Sampone's father, who died in 1996, used to play in the lot when he was a child. He was a beloved member of the city, and was known for being the owner of Shorty's Restaurant on Broad Street for 22 years. Sampone said his father catered to the children and city law enforcement whenever he had the chance.

Sampone said he's tired of seeing the neighborhood children not have a place to go.

"The only place for kids to go in this neighborhood is the school and that's not available at later hours," he said. "The next closest place requires crossing a major highway and the Mohawk River, which isn't safe."

Sampone said his plan will help revitalize the South Side while giving families a place to play with their children in a safe environment.

He said this park will be fenced in with accessible parking, picnic tables, benches, new landscaping, cement pathways, and a small playground. At the back of the lot there's a large concrete retaining wall holding up the old railroad track. Sampone said the wall will become a mural by local children and artists.

He said the first phase of the project is to create a "green space" with grass, trees, fencing and concrete pathways. He's received more than $30,000 worth of material donations for the project's first phase from Cranesville Block, Santos Construction Corp. and other local businesses.

He hopes the first phase will start soon and end by mid-summer.

The second phase, which is the equipment, is the trickier part. Sampone said he has almost $10,000 saved for playground equipment designed by Syracuse-based Parkitects, however the overall price is $50,000.

"We'll get there," Sampone said. "We keep getting donations. The little donations add up and the larger donations really help."

The playground will be geared for children up to the age of 14 and will be completely accessible for any child.

The design includes a slide, a seesaw, a rocking spring toy, and an OmniSpin spinner which is an accessible merry-go-round that provides back and trunk support for the user.

Sampone said the park would engage all seven senses of a child.

"This play area engages the seven senses: tactile, proprioceptive, vestibular, visual, auditory, motor planning and social/imaginative," he said. "It also allows families to gather in a safe, fun environment.

Fifth Ward Alderman Richard Leggiero supports the project.

"I do believe there are a lot of children in that area of the city," Leggiero said, "and a park would keep them occupied and out of trouble so it's a good idea. It's a good thing."

Sampone said he's accepting all types of donations.

To donate labor or materials, contact Sampone at 369-8062. Monetary donations can be made to John A. Sampone Sr. Memorial Fund at First Niagara Bank. If anyone wishes to purchase a memorial brick that will be put in the park, contact Tina Dybas at 469-0541.