City Park neighbors challenge “regional attraction” proposal
A letter to the editor sparked residents around City Park to unite in expressing opposition to a planned 13-acre, $5 million entertainment attraction in the park. At the same time, the parks manager says final design could still change.
In the September issue of the Greater Park Hill News, Hank Bootz and Holly Joyce of Park Hill wrote: “The park is threatened by overdevelopment and commercialization and we are concerned that a proposed new play area…will only create more traffic and lead to further degradation.” See the full letter at greaterparkhill.org/2013/08/31/city-park-needs-no-improvement.
Bootz and Joyce quickly realized that others in Park Hill as well as people from surrounding neighborhoods – North and South City Park, Congress Park, City Park West, and Whittier – had similar concerns.
Area residents express frustration because the proposal came directly from Denver Parks and Recreation (DPR) with no initial public involvement. DPR later asked the public to select one of three designs for what the agency calls a “regional attraction” or “multi-generational playground.”
While critics seem to have more questions than answers, Parks Manager Lauri Dannemiller says the agency is still examining the full proposal.
“At this point, the project is in very early stages of conceptual design,” said Dannemiller in a statement for GPHN. “After hearing initial public feedback, we’ve already discussed changes to the overall size and other design features. As we progress… we will absolutely study numerous issues, including parking, access, and maintenance. We will also continue to solicit public feedback as we continue with the conceptual planning of the project, which is still several years from completion.”
Opponents object to the replacement of the existing Dustin Redd playground with a large multi-age “play experience” because the new attraction will take away so much green space. They also argue that City Park already contains two of the city’s most popular destinations and the park cannot absorb another regional facility without detrimental effects to the park.
In the April 2012 edition of Greater Park Hill News, DPR Senior Landscape Planner Britta Herwig described the plans as iconic new experience. “ReImagine Play is a challenge proposed to the greater design world, to park users, and the citizens of Denver to rethink the meaning of play and come up with unique, exciting ways for people of all backgrounds and ages to play, learn and socialize,” said Herwig. Read the full story at greaterparkhill.org/2012/04/01/denver-parks-and-recreation-reimagines-play-at-city-park-a-gphn-qa-with-the-projects-senior-landscape-planner-britta-herwig.
Herwig no longer works for DPR. Planners Mark Tabor and Gordon Robertson are now leading the project.
Plans for City Loop, created by the architectural firms chosen for the design, PORT A+U of Denver and Indie Architecture of Chicago, show numerous colorful, manmade fabrications, water features, tall light fixtures, kiosks, food trucks and even a staffed comfort station. The City’s plans also show crowds and large commercial events, including concerts. Opponents complain that DPR provides no plans for parking, traffic, maintenance, security or an annual operating budget for City Loop.
Although the initial proposal called for the majority of funding to be provided through grants and other contributions, DPR does not identify its target corporate sponsors.
Longtime City Park activist Tom Morris of South City Park sees the entertainment attraction as another “invasion” of the park. In past decades, Morris opposed plans for a fire station and an aquarium in the park which would have significantly reduced the open green space. Morris joined other park advocates in later combating a music festival, dog waste bag dispensers with advertising, and a month-long outdoor movie project in 2011.
GPHN’s “City Matters” column in April 2013 discussed both plans for the super-playground and the growing concern about its impact. Read the column at greaterparkhill.org/2013/04/01/new-playground-concept-at-city-park-throwing-some-neighbors-for-a-loop. At that time, DPR and the design team launched public meetings to get opinions on topics such as fitness, incorporating art, parking and circulation for City Park, building materials and sustainability. The DPR design team presented its final concept in September.
After examining the final proposal and combing through related documents, opponents began to seriously question the proposal by setting up a web site and preparing a short video.
StopCityLoop.org organizers say the city must provide “a reliable, quantitative assessment of public interest, usage, and target audience, and then to complete legitimate parking, traffic, maintenance, security, operational budget and environmental impact studies.”
The new president of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board (PRAB), Leslie Twarogowski, criticized the opposition in a social media comment. “This ‘Stop City Loop’ group is unlikely to stop the project, and if anything, the group’s inflammatory and uncooperative ‘tone’ will breed unnecessary ill-will.” Twarogowski is appointee of Councilwoman Mary Beth Susman in District 5. Susman is known for her openness and willingness to negotiate.
When the plan was first introduced, members of the Inter-Neighborhood Parks and Recreation Committee questioned the lack of direct neighborhood and public involvement. There is concern that neighborhoods were not consulted to determine the community’s desire for such a development. Some strong critics even question if “regional attraction” is strictly a business project, not a park enhancement.
Park Hill’s representative to the design review committee, Gete Mekonnen, continually questioned the proximity of the play and fitness attraction to the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in City Park. Some critics say it would be improper to have large plastic structures and noisy activities so close to a place of solitude and contemplation.
Spokesperson Tiffany Barnhart says Denver Zoo is gathering information about the project and the affect of the entertainment facility on animals and Zoo attendees. “We look forward to being part of the dialogue as we learn more,” Barnhart tells GPHN.
In 2007, a massive 3-day music festival proposed for the western side of City Park was cancelled primarily because of concern about high sound levels. American Zoological Association guidelines say noise and human activity should be avoided even if there is only a potential impact on animals.
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