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Designers get input on Riverfront Park

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Architects from Rhodeside & Harwell have a lot to digest after receiving suggestions from about a dozen segments of the Fredericksburg community this week about how to design Riverfront Park.

They plan to craft up to three designs based on those ideas and will continue gathering feedback as the process moves toward a final design by Aug. 1.

The Alexandria-based firm of landscape architects, urban designers and planners signed a $129,970 contract in December to design the park on 3.6 acres located between Sophia Street and the Rappahannock River.

The downtown site is adjacent to Shiloh (Old Site) Baptist Church, where two of the firm’s directors held focus group meetings all day Wednesday.

After the final design is created, it will be reviewed by the city’s Architectural Review Board, Planning Commission and City Council, each of which will hold a public hearing before taking action.

But before then, residents will have multiple opportunities to weigh in with ideas.

Later this month, Rhodeside & Harwell will establish a website where people can track the progress of the project and make comments, said Councilman George Solley who serves on the Riverfront Task Force.

And on March 8, the designers will host an open house from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. for people to learn about the project and offer suggestions. The location of the meeting will be set soon.

IDEAS AND CHALLENGES

On Wednesday, Elliot and Deana Rhodeside, husband and wife directors of the firm, led sessions throughout the day to gather information and gain insight from city residents, businesses and officials.

They heard from more than 100 people representing the city’s historic concerns, environmental groups, adjacent property owners, arts and events groups, residents of downtown and outlying neighborhoods, and people involved in health, wellness, schools, recreation and children’s interests.

They also heard from people concerned about economic and development interests as well as city staff, the Planning Commission and City Council.

Afterward, the Rhodesides identified two “hot button” issues—parking and the future of a Masonic Lodge building—and had a better sense of the community and its goals.

The group representing the city’s historic interests leaned toward keeping the Masonic Lodge at 609 Sophia St., but restoring it to its previous form.

Kerri Barile of Dovetail Cultural Resource Group led an archaeological study of the park site and noted that there is an 1859 foundation below the building and that in 1921 noted architect E.G. “Peck” Heflin built the current structure. Her report states that the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge 61 bought the property in 1972 and added the brick veneer.

She suggested the building could be re-purposed as the city’s visitor center, noting that the Caroline Street location is a prime commercial site that could be sold.

Barile and others also said it could provide public restrooms.

But people in other groups—including those focused on environmental issues—expressed no reservation about leveling the building.

With parking an ongoing issue in downtown, people were split on whether to keep some or all of the spaces currently in the park’s boundary.

Councilwoman Bea Paolucci expressed concern for the needs of the Shiloh church, which regularly uses the spaces.

But many favored eliminating them with an eye toward seeing downtown as pedestrian friendly. Several suggested what Elliot Rhodeside summarized as “connections,” meaning to find ways to better link the various parts of downtown.

Several, including Planning Commissioner Joanne Kaiman, said they want to see the city’s trails linked to the Riverfront Park.

And many liked the idea of using artwork or some other feature to help draw people from the shopping and restaurant areas along Caroline and Princess Anne streets down to the riverfront.

Deana Rhodeside conveyed a message she heard through the day that Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw acknowledged: “People say, ‘I understand there is a river. Where is it?’”

Historians weren’t the only ones eager to see the river’s history shared in the park, but many wanted to be sure it isn’t a static place with signs.

They suggested the designers find a creative way to tell the story of the river, noting its role as a key route for merchants, its Civil War history and the diversity of people who have inhabited that small strip of land over the years.

Several noted the importance of acknowledging African–American history in that story.

Asked to mention other parks they found attractive, riverfronts in Charleston and Greenville, S.C., and Georgetown Park in Washington were among those discussed.

Elliot Rhodeside said he was pleased that people attending this week’s meetings were enthused about the park and brought lots of ideas as opposed to hostility.

He noted that the design trend for today is “walkability and livability” and that people want to leave their cars behind in their free time. He said that and a river give Fredericksburg the elements needed for a great park.

Just how to pull together the suggestions offered—including a high school student’s goal that they “capture the quirkiness of Fredericksburg”—is the designers’ challenge.

But Elliot and Deana Rhodeside seemed to embrace the economic potential the park has for the city.

One of their goals will be to make the park what one group called a “signature place” and one that people—both residents and tourists—will want to visit again.

Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972

pgould@freelancestar.com

 

 

DESIGNING THE PARK

Rhodeside & Harwell of Alexandria is taking the following steps in creating a design for Fredericksburg’s Riverfront Park.

  • Dec. 2—Rhodeside & Harwell signed a contract for about $130,000 with the city to design the park in nine months.
  • Jan. 13—The design team held its first meeting with the city’s Riverfront Task Force.
  • WednesdayFeb. 5—Focus group sessions held to hear from various segments of the city.
  • Mid-February—A website will be established to keep the community updated on the project and provide a place for comments. A link to it will be posted on the city website: fredericksburgva.gov.
  • Late February—Designers share task force information gained from focus groups.
  • March 8—Designers hold the first of two open houses to get input from the community about their ideas for the park and to distribute a survey. The meeting is expected to run from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The location will be announced soon.
  • Early April—The task force will receive up to three design options.
  • Late April—The second of two open houses will be held to get feedback from the community on the concept design options and identify the preferred one.
  • Early May—Designers will meet with city staff and task force to decide the preferred concept to develop.
  • Mid-June—Designers present the final concept design to city staff and task force for any final changes.
  • Aug. 1—Completion date for the design. Once complete, it will go before the Architectural Review Board, the Planning Commission and the City Council, each of which will hold a public hearing before acting.

 

DESIGN GOALS

The Riverfront Task Force set four goals for designing a park on 3.6 acres between the Rappahannock River and Sophia Street.

1. It should incorporate the following:

  • Link downtown with the river.
  • Link to other city-designated trail system projects.
  • Stimulate economic development on Sophia Street.
  • Be appealing to visitors and residents.
  • Be usable for special events.
  • Be suitable for everyday use.

2. It should consider physical elements identified by the task force and the public including:

  • A fountain
  • An amphitheater
  • A children’s play area
  • Space for public art
  • Appealing landscape
  • An open area for gatherings
  • Appealing viewshed and aesthetics
  • Visibility from downtown
  • A connection to river walk
  • Potentially use Scott’s Island
  • Bathroom facilities
  • Contiguous city properties such as the Masonic Lodge spot and parking lot

3. Minimize detrimental effects on the river, its banks and the natural and cultural environment.

4. Include resident participation in the planning process.

 

 

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