In January, the city’s Downtown Design Review Committee (DDRC) was presented with a plan to make major changes to the park, which is part of the $154 million downtown streetscape and green space redevelopment initiative called Project 180. The estimated cost of changes to the park is around $3 million.
Those plan include design techniques intended to direct pedestrian traffic, a water feature that serves as both a fountain and performance stage, electronic signage on Walker Avenue, removal of many monuments and memorials, and elements that would better connect City Hall, Bicentennial Park and the Civic Center, said the plan’s architect, Rand Elliott.
In the works for at least a year and passed by the Devon Implementation Committee in December, the plan met resistance from the DDRC, city staff and some engaged citizens. Amid concerns about the design, the committee tabled the proposal.The issue came up again during the Feb. 14 City Council meeting, when several council members bristled at the idea of fundamentally changing the park.
Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid said he had a “laundry list of concerns” that included the proposal to remove many monuments and old trees. He also questioned why the plan was slated for completion while other Project 180 items — such as improvements to E.K. Gaylord Boulevard and removing one-way streets — were put on the back burner.
“This park is not just a historical center, it’s the historical center; it’s the epicenter of the city’s history. There’s a tremendous amount of reverence that’s deserved toward that history,” Shadid said. “Prioritizing … revamping of Bicentennial Park at this time doesn’t make sense to me. I think whatever plan you have is going to fail because you don’t have the rooftops, you don’t have the people.”
Ward 1 Councilman Gary Marrs challenged the wisdom of putting a modern park between two buildings from the Works Progress Administration era.
“This is not a place to put a modernistic park,” Marrs said. “I'd be very hard-pressed to vote ‘yes’ on something on this park if it has what I call a ‘modernistic look’ to it. … There are parts of this town that need to remain historical and have that perspective about it, and I think this park is one of them.”
City Manager Jim Couch said there had been a lack of coordination between the Planning and Public Works departments. Many of the issues people had with the would-be design, he said, were not actually in the proposal submitted to the DDRC, but were in alternate designs.
On Feb. 16, the design committee met again and reconsidered the item, this time with presentations from Elliott, Public Works Director Eric Wenger and Jim Crosby of Planning Design Group.
“In January, when this was first brought forward, there were several questions that were raised during the meeting that we weren’t prepared to respond to,” Wenger said.
He said the design committee’s concerns subsequently have been addressed. For instance, the Arts Commission and Parks Department were looking into new homes for the monuments, the fountain stage design was adjusted, and the electronic signs were moved back from the curb.
The committee unanimously approved the proposal. It is now scheduled to go before the Economic Development Trust. It was the subject of a City Council presentation earlier this week, although the proposal was not scheduled for a vote.
Photo by Shannon Cornman