The City of Elmira asked Design Connect to create a conceptual site plan for the redesign of Ernie Davis Park and to assist in building community enthusiasm and consensus around a shared vision of the site.

The city park is located within the boundaries of Slabtown, a neighborhood founded in the 1840s by African Americans fleeing slavery on the Underground Railroad. Slabtown was demolished when the neighboring John W. Jones Court apartment building was constructed in the 1950s. After sitting vacant for years, the Jones Court building has been proposed to be redeveloped as housing for veterans and low-income residents. The city is seeking a redesign of the park to continue to fuel interest and investment in the neighborhood.

Ernie Davis (1939-1963) was the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy, college football’s highest honor. Residing in Elmira during his teenage years, he got his start playing sports nearby. Tragically, he was diagnosed with leukemia at age 23, and passed away before he had a chance to make his debut in professional football.

Based on feedback gained during site visits, community meetings, stakeholder interviews, and from youth and adult survey responses, the team created a conceptual design for the park that meets the community’s desire for a more usable, safe, and multi-generational recreational space that commemorates Slabtown’s history and the life of Ernie Davis. Site features include a memorial statue, pavilion with Slabtown-inspired architectural details, walking trail, and playground and exercise features.