On Thursday, March 27, Phoenicians gathered under a cloud-streaked sky in the downtown sector. Some sprawled amongst the grass, others chased their children while still more stood, beer in hand, facing the stage. It wasn't a rock concert or a festival -- not yet anyway. That would be March 28.
Last night was about the park. The physical place where they all were, certainly, and also the potential the greenery has to become more than a glorified lawn. After months of committee and community meetings, the City of Phoenix, the Parks and Recreation Department, and the Hance Park Conservancy unveiled the finalized plans for the redesigned Margaret T. Hance Park to residents at a three-hour event.
Nearly 1,500 people milled about to participate in enHANCE: The New Park Plan, said Vern Biaett, a faculty associate at Arizona State University who specializes in event studies. He gestured to the surrounding metered parking and lots, many of which were barely full -- and indication that most in attendance were neighborhood residents who had walked.
The free evening event featured food trucks like Short Leash Hot Dogs and Pizza People Pub, a beer and wine garden ("$2 beers! Celebrate like it's 1992!"), and live music -- a far cry from the last community conversation we reported on in January. Held at the Phoenix Art Museum on Wednesday, January 22, the town hall-style meeting drew 300 members of the public for two hours of remarks from principals at Weddle Gilmore and !melk architecture firms and speakers like District 4 Councilwoman Laura Pastor and Ann Wheat, the Parks and Recreation Department's Deputy Downtown Division Director.
Last night's presentation was much of the same, including additional speaking from Kris Floor of landscape architecture firm Floor Associates, District 7 Councilman Michael Nowakowski and Kimber Lanning, director of Local First Arizona.
Lanning rounded out the 40-minute presentation, recalling how far the Valley, and particularly the downtown area, has come and comparing the oft-uphill battle to "being in the trenches."
Wheat, like many of the presenters, opened the ceremony with a sweeping statement about identity -- a sentiment echoed throughout the night via comparisons to Chicago's Millennium Park, Manhattan's Central and Bryant parks, and Parc Güell in Barcelona, Spain.
"The transformative nature of Hance Park as our grand urban park will transform our city," Wheat said.
By 7:30 p.m., half an hour after her opening line and a stalled start of the presentation due to technical delays (attempted to be assuaged by some very poor movie star impersonations by em cee Greg Lutz), the darkened grass in front of the McDowell Mountain Music Festival main stage was standing-room only -- though few cheered when asked if they were ready to see the unveiling of the Hance Park Master Plan that was to follow.
Two months ago, the proposed designed divided the park into three distinct areas designated by design and functionality: the neighborhood park ("Valley"), the urban park ("Canyon"), and the civic park ("Plateau").
The design presented on Thursday, March 27, was identical -- a long-term vision set to roll out over six to 10 years.
Each area of the park is either bordered by or incorporates the park's neighbors like the Phoenix Center for the Arts and the Japanese Friendship Garden. The first third, or "Valley," is to highlight the park's family friendly qualities with an expanded dog park, shade structures, and an additional playground for children while adding a safer crosswalk for parents and children to attend the Great Arizona Puppet Theater across Third Avenue.
The "Canyon" part of Hance Park, including and west of the Burton Barr Library, will include a skate park, movable café-style seating, and an overarching shade structure called "The Cloud," which will help define the park as a designated destination.
The area where Thursday's meeting was held, the "Plateau" section, will include much of what Phoenicians experienced during the meeting: a food truck area, beer garden and well-maintained public plazas.
Four area gardens will be created and housed in the park: one aquatic, one desert, one mineral, and one specimen, bringing new vegetation and color to a typically muted landscape. Playing off that landscape, however, both firms plan to construct 60-foot-tall steel-and-grass buttes, homage to the peaks and mountains surrounding the Valley. These buttes would be home to trees that thrive in the climate, including desert oak and palo verde, which offer a shade refuge from the powerful summer sun.
Both the Phoenix City Council Subcommittee on Parks, Arts, Transparency, and Education and the City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Board unanimously approved the proposed redesign plans on Wednesday, March 26 -- though the decision is one of pledged support rather than funding. Phoenix is staring down the barrel of a near $38 million dollar budget deficit, which means securing public funding for all or part of the project could take considerable time.
The proposed cost of the upgrades and renovations to the park, from zip lines to splash pads to shade structures -- is approximately $118 million. So while construction could begin as early as this summer, the likelihood of the park's completion in year or even a few is next to none.
Instead, the project will be achieved through three distinct phases over a decade. The first will focus of spending all early money toward creating The Cloud and signature gateway for the park, with particular concern to the Plateau designation and special event atmosphere. The second and third phases will expand on adding details to the Canyon and Valley areas, respectively.
Built in 1992, the park sits atop the Interstate 10 tunnel -- often referred to as the "Deck Park Tunnel." The 32-acre park extends as far west as Fifth Avenue and east as Third Street, designated by Culver and Portland streets to the north and south, respectively. Though the park is the city's largest, it remains largely vacant, save for large-scale events like Phoenix Oktoberfest and the McDowell Mountain Music Festival.
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"Does Phoenix deserve a great signature park?" asked Sarah Porter, chair of the Margaret T. Hance Park Master Plan Steering Committee, as the sun began to set. "We're ready for a great city park. This is an opportunity to create what people identify with Phoenix."
Editor's note: This post has been modified from its original version.