Riverside 'friends' push park into running for 15K grant in Coca-Cola contest

New London - Friends of Riverside Park likely drifted off to dreamland Sunday night secure in the knowledge that their beloved park had finished among the top 25 parks in the nation in online balloting sponsored by Coca-Cola.

Only a miraculous 11th-hour rally by Fireman's Park in West Seneca, N.Y., could have spoiled things.

"We're in pretty good shape," Corina Vendetto, a Riverside "friend," said several hours before the voting closed at 11:59 p.m.

The top three parks in the voting will receive grants of $100,000, $50,000 and $25,000, respectively for park improvements. One of the parks that finishes fourth through 25th will be chosen at random to receive a $15,000 grant.

Riverside cracked the Top 25 shortly after noon Friday and moved to No. 24 about 45 minutes later, according to Vendetto. It cleared the 300,000-vote mark around noon Sunday.

Six hours later, Riverside had nearly 310,000 votes, about 30,000 more than 25th-place Fireman's Park. In 23rd place, Wabun Picnic Area of Minneapolis, with more than 322,000 votes, seemed out of Riverside's reach.

With nearly 28 million votes, Pratt Park in Prattville, Ala., appeared to have the top spot locked up.

"It all boils down to mobilizing people," Vendetto said. "We didn't even get started until June 25, a month after voting started. We've been posting fliers and emailing everybody in our address lists. People who used to live in New London or who know somebody who lives in New London are voting. "There's been a lot of Facebook activity."

The city posted a link to Coca-Cola's "America's Favorite Park" contest on its website.

People on both sides of last fall's referendum defeat of the city's proposed sale of a portion of the park to the Coast Guard Academy joined the vote-early-and-often frenzy, according to Vendetto.

"It speaks volumes about the community," she said. "Half of New London has carpal tunnel right now."

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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