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Will a proposed playground area at Phoenix's Hance Park destroy the tranquility of the Japanese Friendship Garden?EXPAND
Will a proposed playground area at Phoenix's Hance Park destroy the tranquility of the Japanese Friendship Garden?
Phoenix Parks and Recreation/Hargreaves Associates and Airi Katsuka

Game On: Fiesta Bowl Charities Versus Japanese Friendship Garden at Hance Park

It’s game on now that the Japanese Friendship Garden has gone public with its concerns over a play area coming to Margaret T. Hance Park. Fiesta Bowl Charities is donating $2 million to create the park, which will be situated just north of the garden. That’s a problem for garden officials, who fear children playing nearby will make enough noise to disrupt their tranquil setting.

“Our goal is to maintain the tranquility of the garden and see a wonderful play area but in another location of the park,” garden officials posted on social media last week.

The city sought feedback on the design during a May 2018 meeting held at the Irish Cultural Center. Reiko Reavis says the garden has been sharing its concerns ever since. She’s the executive director for the Japanese Friendship Garden, which was opened to the public in 2002.

On August 20, the garden officials put out a plea for help, using Facebook and Instagram to garner support for changing the play area’s planned location.

But there’s nothing to indicate the city is even considering the idea.

And the timing is problematic, because Fiesta Bowl Charities just made its big play.

On August 19, Phoenix Community Alliance announced that Fiesta Bowl Charities would be donating $2 million to help make the play area happen. So now it appears Fiesta Bowl Charities is holding the ball, leaving the Japanese Friendship Garden as a big underdog.

“It’s too late to move the play area,” according to Mary Margaret Jones. She’s a senior principal with Hargreaves Associates, the landscape architecture firm hired to create the new Hance Park design.

It’s unclear whether the donation is dependent on the play area being situated in a specific part of the park. “I don’t believe the agreement stipulates location but to move it now would impact schedule commitment and result in additional redesign costs,” Jones says.

Fiesta Bowl Charities didn’t get back to Phoenix New Times before deadline, but it’s clear the organization is influencing at least some play-area decisions.

“We’re working with a timeline to meet the donors’ schedule,” Jones says.

Turns out, they could break ground on the play area as early as late 2019, she says. “The ribbon-cutting is scheduled for December 2020.”

The play area is just one element in a much larger plan to revitalize the 32-acre urban space named for the city’s first female mayor. The park spans a deck over the I-10 freeway tunnel, and runs from Third Street to Third Avenue.

“The play area has been in that location since 2014,” Jones says of the design plan.

The plan has evolved over time because of factors such as funding expectations and community input.

“The location of the play area was chosen for several reasons,” according to an email the city’s parks and recreation department sent New Times on August 22. They include shade provided by existing trees, soil depth, and safety.

Planners considered switching locations for the play area and a garden going in next to the Irish Cultural Center, but decided that would set the play area too close to traffic, according to the city’s email.

Instead, Hargreaves is exploring sound-mitigating design elements such as a sound wall, berm, or increased vegetation.

Jones is confident that play-area noise levels won’t affect the garden, in part because the plan calls for 75 to 100 feet separating the closest play element from the nearest garden walkway. “We’re a fair distance away from the garden,” she says.

The garden probably won’t get the big win here. But they could still score a small victory.

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