At a community meeting hosted by the Westwood Coalition on Monday, October 3, 2016, representatives of Cincinnati Parks and MKSK, landscape architects and urban design firm, showed residents Final Schematic Plan for Gaines Triangle and the park grounds at Westwood Town Hall. As Steve Shuckman, Parks Division of Planning and Design, noted, “The plan has evolved and gotten stronger with community input.” Area residents, the Coalition, and a project advisory council that includes Westwood residents all participated in the design and feedback process. Last month, the Park Board approved the draft plan, as did the Coalition, the latter noting a few areas of ongoing community discussion.
Clete Benken, MKSK, described a rich design process that included a dozen meetings, a study of the existing property, and listening. He noted that the design focused on the Coalition and community’s quality of life and economic development goals and residents’ hopes and dreams for the area. He described the project’s design parameters and the goal:
Create a community gathering place, a park which is the focal point for the neighborhood and catalyst for development, and a distinctive setting for historic Westwood Town Hall.
Mr. Benken cited some of the parameters: an inviting, multi-functional, multi-use space, with more flexibility than exists currently. The planners sought to develop parking, open spaces, signage, plantings, and so on consistent with the direction set by prior community planning and in cohesion with plans for the business district, generally. The plan places value on open lawn spaces and visibility, seating, play space, flexible use, recreational programming, art, pedestrian flow and safety, and historic features of the property. The design team worked with the Department of Traffic and Engineering on pedestrian movement and crossings and Recreation on the recreational programming of the grounds. Parking and drop off is shifted to the west side of the building which opens up space for an amphitheater and play area and provides more accessibility. The team has had preliminary discussion with Recreation for possible retrofitting of lower level space to accommodate food service.
Next, Mr. Benken showed perspective views from various angles, included in the Final Schematic Plan slides. He commented on the planned children’s play area, its increased visibility, and the openness of the front lawn. The drop off space can be dedicated to food trucks during a festival, for example, with ample space for vendor booths for events like the Westwood Art Show. An inventory of the site’s trees was made and the planners indicated their intent to retain all of the contributing trees and the “must keeps” because of their health and value (specimen trees, shade, etc.) Noncontributing or diseased trees, or trees nearing the end of their life cycle would come down but the plans call for adding far more trees than would be taken out, with an eye toward a good urban canopy, carbon capture, and shade. Mr. Benken noted that signage on the corners of the site would be lower and elegant, without obstructing sight lines or being too commercial.
And he showed the plans for Gaines Triangle at Harrison and Epworth, with its flexible seating and shade trees, pointing to the efforts to tie the spaces together, including conceptual drawings for adjacent properties like Madcap Puppets and the WestCURC parking lot. He did say that, while the City could not fund enhancements to the private properties, it can work with businesses on common design elements and goals. Curbing and decorative pavement material would visually link the areas and give the sense of a shared space, evoking the Coalition’s recommendation to mark this intersection as the center of the business district, our Main + Main.
There will be two more phases of design, to flesh out details, before the project goes out to bid. This will include the detail of drinking fountains, benches, seating, signs, information kiosks, and art. $4M has been appropriated by the City for this project. The construction is expected to begin in spring 2017 with completion in four to eight months, weather dependent, with possible final plantings in spring 2018.
A dog park is planned for the side of the park property facing Montana Ave and Westwood School. It would be a double-gated fenced area with hard surfaces to facilitate maintenance of the site. Reasons for the dog park include activation of a relatively remote area of the site with year round use and socializing by dogs and people.
A question was raised about maintenance of the grounds, including the dog park and the gardens. Mr. Shuckman noted that the maintenance costs study is about one week from completion and does take into account current maintenance costs of the park. He noted that he hopes the community will help with planning for maintenance, including, for example, the gardening done now by volunteers as a Westwood Civic Association initiative. Henry Frondorf, Coalition facilitator, remarked on a poll that the Coalition initiated, demonstrating a negative response to the inclusion of a dog park. Another survey suggested a positive response to a dog park. Comments seem primarily associated with maintenance concerns, which were somewhat alleviated by Mr. Shuckman’s description of the material planned for the surface. Other concerns included availability of yards and a nearby dog park and a commitment to dog play over children’s play space. Still, the dog park is in the plans and is not expected to negatively impact mature trees or create a maintenance problem. MKSK’s Clete Benken commented that dog parks develop a park’s patronage, activity levels, and safety.
A resident inquired about the playground area and whether it would be contained. The speakers commented on the playscape which will spark imaginative and challenging play. It is fairly small and would not be fully fenced, relying instead on perimeter landscaping and low walls. Several people commented that it seems small, perhaps too small. There was positive response to the play area in the heart of the park.
Another attendee noted the historical features of the site, including the veterans’ memorial, the tree planted in Sgt Eric Sierra’s memory, the Ohio historical marker, and the section of rail. All are being incorporated into the plans and retained because they are special to the community and the site. An attendee mentioned the Broadbeck Performance Pavilion, noting that Mr. Broadbeck saved the Westwood Town Hall building when its future was threatened. This plan development provides an opportunity to honor people especially important to the history of the site and the surrounding area.
Asked about interactive water features, Mr. Shuckman indicated early interest in including water but said that the maintenance and budget made it impossible, describing this as an unfortunate loss.
In response to a question about parking on the site, the speakers noted that the number of spaces is the same but it is safer and also more convenient for drop off as planned. They noted that the intent is to preserve parking for accessibility and convenience but not at the cost of dominating the site.
One resident inquired about the plans for the decommissioned firehouse and its link to the park grounds. WestCURC will bring a restaurant to the firehouse and is working on those plans in the context of neighborhood development and in alignment with the park site.
An attendee remarked that the stationary exercise equipment, like that in place at Harvest Home Park, or parcours workout stations could be a very attractive addition to the site, particularly given concerns about health.
Residents commented on infrastructure issues in the immediate area, such as lighting, trees, and sidewalks. Henry Frondorf, Westwood Coalition, noted the Coalition’s Infrastructure Committee, is addressing a cohesive plan for streetscaping and all that it entails. The speakers remarked that lighting is important around the park and they are working to eliminate dark spots. The parking lot along the west side of the building will be illuminated. A nearby property owner urged Parks to include perimeter trash receptacles to cut down on littering. The dumpster will be enclosed and located on the Epworth side of the property. Access to the Town Hall will be largely unchanged. The current door will continue to serve as the main entrance with an accessible entrance at the lower level and ADA compliant walkways.
If readers have comments and questions, they’re encouraged to comment here or email the Coalition. Steve Shuckman of Parks Planning and Design also welcomes comments. Once again, here is the presentation that accompanies this post.
The Coalition has been working on placemaking, infrastructure, and positioning work for the entire business district and will share more on that work in the months to come, as well as reports on this website regarding the timeline for the park grounds and Gaines Triangle construction. Thanks to all who made time to attend the presentation on October 3.