It would’ve been understandable to feel a bit of deja vu attending last week’s community forum about plans for Unity Park.
The city went through a similar exercise a couple of years ago.
What has changed? Nothing at the downtown park which is the main point about re-engaging in the park planning process.
In the broader scope, there have been changes. COVID happened. In the short-term, COVID hit community events and functions hard. One of the uses for a downtown park would be community events and functions. What the means in 2022 and beyond may difffer from what it meant in 2019 and before.
Also, the city considered creating a pedestrian boulevard on the portion of Pearl Street in front of the park. A park on a closed street would look different than a park on a roadway open for traffic.
The conclusion of that discussion was not to permentaly close that section of Pearl Street, although the door was left open for event-specific closures.
In summary, COVID knocked out some community events, which are only now recovering, and the city briefly flirted with an idea that would’ve radically changed the park.
All that means we are still on square one.
One change going forward, is the city intends to demolish the entirety of the former bank drive-through structure. Before, there had been a discussion of leaving the portion of the building used as a ticket office.
This change opens up options, particularly with the park’s public entry points. Originally the drive-through bays were going to come down a year or so ago, but now the building will not be demolished until the plans are ready to move forward.
According to the city’s website for the park plans, the goal is to have the park open to the public in June 2023. That seems a ways off but would require a rapid pace from this point forward. On the plus side, the city has $1.8 million from the American Rescue Plan Act.
Two plans were presented last week. There are some differences, but both have the same goal of accommodating people, being family-friendly and functional for multiple uses.
The challenge with any public space project is making it so utilitarian it loses any sense of character or desinging it so well for one purpose that it does not adjust well for other uses.
There is probably a sweet spot where the park is both functional and reflects the character of the surrounding historic downtown.
It is more important for the city to get this project right than to get it done fast. Some patience with the process is worth nurturing.
A new park smack-dab in the center of downtown is cause for excitement. There is more information available on park plans on the city’s website. Check it out and get involved in planning development of an asset that will benefit generations to come.