Imagining A Better Place

Imagining A Better Place

15:33 07 May in News Stories

By Linda Brown, Atlantic Ave Magazine                                                                                                 Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 4.49.24 PM

May 2015

About a decade ago the board at the Delray Center for the Arts at Old School Square and the City Commission had a vision for the grounds near the cultural arts center.

Taking lessons learned from the Downtown Master Planning process and a later visioning session for parks, there was a strong desire to eliminate an ugly parking lot and replace it with a new downtown park.

Of course, replacing the parking would be important too, since the downtown was emerging into a regional attraction. So the city envisioned building a parking garage on the edge of the square that would not only replace the surface parking but add some needed spaces as well. As a bonus, the commission decided to make the garage a “mixed-use” facility with the ground floor eventually becoming the new home for The Arts Garage and the Delray Chamber of Commerce.

The direction a decade ago was clear, the city commission envisioned a “central” park that would be lively and vibrant like Piazza’s in Italy or New York’s famed Bryant Park.

They were concerned about the park not becoming “dead space” in the heart of town and talked about perhaps launching a design competition or engaging the renowned non-profit the Project for Public Spaces to assist in creating a memorable place.

Fast forward a decade and it seems that dream may finally be coming to fruition.

Kick started by a public lecture given by Fred Kent, a part-time resident of Delray and the co-founder of the Project for Public Spaces, newly re-elected Mayor Cary Glickstein and the Center for the Arts’ board are once again dreaming big, resurrecting the original vision for the park.

It’s not as if the past decade has seen no action in the park. The space has become the preferred home of the CRA’s Green Market, which has grown in size and popularity and has also housed a number of festivals notably The Garlic Fest and other special events.

Still, the space is not seen as an “every day” park and the Center’s Board of Directors, CRA, citizens and city would like to see more activity on a regular basis.

The CRA contracted with RMA Associates, a private firm to hold a public charrette in late March that surfaces new ideas and rekindled some older ones.

RMA President Chris Brown, a former CRA Director and Delray resident, led the discussion by showing examples from around the world of vibrant public plazas and parks.

Some of the ideas that are being considered include:

  • Adding shade and some food and beverage kiosks to encourage people to stay in the park.
  • Adding a screen on the garage wall for movies and performances
  • Adding a screen on the garage wall for movies and performances.
  • Adding children’s activities
  • Opening the bottom wall of the garage to accommodate co-working spaces so entrepreneurs can have affordable space downtown.
  • Adding public art or water features and possibly replacing some of the grass with a permeable hardscape since the grass is often having to be replaced after festivals.

While some of the ideas had fans and detractors, there seemed to be proud public consensus to keep the Green Market in their home, but possibly expand operations to include a few nighttime markets.

The charrette drew a standing room only crowd of residents, business owners and top city officials indicating high interest in the fate and potential of the park space.

The redesign of a downtown park is part of a larger plan to take a look at other so-called “lazy assets” that can be re-thought and reactivated.

Kent’s lecture on placemaking dovetails with Mayor Glickstein’s goals to create memorable public places.

The City Commission plans to look at the Tennis Center, land behind the Delray Beach Public Library and other assess in the near future.

“Delray is a very special town,” said Kent. “There are many opportunities to make it even more so.”

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