Bicentennial Park, Part Two: “When did the public input process into this park’s location, imagined functions, design, and construction occur?”


Recently, when existing trees abruptly began falling, New Albanians became aware that we’re in the process of building a $750,000 Bicentennial Park directly on the site of the city’s famous Post Office, which was razed sans any meaningful public participation during a previous era of dis-enlightenment in a town notorious both for scant transparency and irony allergies.

As the newspaper’s Jeffersonville management snoozed, NAC’s Jeff Gillenwater did a little comparative park shopping in North Carolina (published October 3).

Below is 230 N. Tryon Street in Charlotte, North Carolina– a decrepit, city-owned parking lot next to a long defunct 85-year-old theater. Look familiar? It’s only slightly smaller than the corner of Spring and Pearl.

Its neighbor, the Foundation for the Carolinas, has been negotiating with city government to purchase and renovate the theater for some time. In preparation for the then upcoming Democratic National Convention in September, the City decided in mid-July to allow the foundation to turn the lot into a pocket park while it decides on the possible sale. The whole real estate and rehabilitation deal will take several years anyway. The work was completed in less than two months with $150,000 in foundation funds and community donations.

Several days afterward, an as-yet unfinished conversation began in the comments section between Jeff and Pete Andriot, who works for the park’s designer.

Pete Andriot said…

Hi Jeff –

A colleague forwarded your post to me, and I thought I could offer some insight into the cost of Bicentennial Park (BP). While the pocket park you chose as a comparison is apt, your statement that it “It’s only slightly smaller” is not really accurate. A quick check on Google Earth shows the site in Charlotte to be 70’x90’ (6,300 SF) – significantly smaller than BP at 120’x135’ (16,200 SF). The cost per square foot in Charlotte (~$24/SF) is directly comparable though, if you discount the two major items which BP has that Charlotte doesn’t: fountains ($100,000) and the excavated lawn with steps around it ($40,000).

Fountains are almost always going to be the single largest line item in any exterior development that has one. But they are a vital element in successful urban spaces. Humans are subconsciously attracted to water – the sight, smell and sound of it are stimuli that cause people to want to look and linger (and maybe even play in it!). Fountains are the single most important difference between transient park spaces (which people just pass through) and engaging park spaces (where people will pause and linger). Can your think of any successful urban park/plaza/square in North America or Europe that doesn’t have a water feature? I’m sure there are a few, but they are few and far between.

The excavated lawn and the steps do a couple important things. The biggest thing the lawn does is reverse the site drainage. The prior parking lot used to sheet flow directly into Spring Street and right into the city’s overburdened storm sewer. Now the lawn is lower and is permeable, so the runoff will have a chance to percolate back into the groundwater before it overflows into the sewer (yes, there are overflows to keep the lawn from actually flooding). The steps round the lawn allow for informal seating around the lawn. Individuals or small groups can find a place to site anywhere around the ellipse. New Albany isn’t ready for moveable tables and chairs yet … but the park is designed to handle them if we get to that point someday.

If you want additional comparable projects: Bowling Green, KY spent $2.1M on Circus Square Park as an anchor for their new sports and entertainment district. Mishawaka, IN spent right around $2M as well on Robert Beutter Riverfront Park, a new anchor for redevelopment on the north edge of their historic downtown. Logansport, IN spent $1.6M on Little Turtle Waterway plaza. The Town of Akron, IN (pop 11,000) spent $350k on their Community Square. Two projects that just wrapped up construction in mid-sized cities are Canan Commons in Muncie, IN ($708k) and Main Street Square in Rapid City, SD ($6.5M).

That last example is a significant of money put into a one-acre site, but it underscores my point succinctly. Main Street Square been open less than a year, in a city not quite twice the size of New Albany, and has already spawned over $2M in private reinvestment and redevelopment within one city block. Successful urban parks consistently pay for themselves many times over in kick-started reinvestment. They catalyze urban revitalization.
12:22 AM

Before Jeff replies, let me be the first to express my delight in learning that my town isn’t “ready” for movable furniture (are we ready for flush toilets?) … and that we need a fountain for subconscious water “attraction” when one of the nation’s major rivers lies a few hundred yards away … and never mind my fear that a city congenitally unable to care for existing asphalt-laden parking lots might now be compelled to regularly maintain a water fountain.

Here is Jeff’s response.

I very much agree, Pete, that public space and placemaking are important elements in community building.

Given that, we’ll start at the beginning: When did the public input process into this park’s location, imagined functions, design, and construction occur?

Since you work for the design firm responsible, I’m hoping you can explain the format used for the various charrettes, detail the input received, and characterize how Rundell Ernstberger Associates interpreted that information into the location and design, especially since you mention judgment of that for which New Albany is or isn’t ready.

I read the two daily newspapers that cover New Albany, view the city web site fairly regularly, follow city government on Facebook and Twitter, and have checked the Rundell Ernstberger web site a few times, but seem to have missed that.
1:29 AM

We await further dialogue. Thank you CM CeeSaw: Can we have another?

Link: Bicentennial Park, Part One: “Whom Does Design Really Serve?”