Don’s Blog: Park It

dons-blog-downtown-cary-park

Story and pictures from the blog of Don Frantz,  Cary Town Council Member for District B . Lead photo by Hal Goodtree.

Cary, NC – For over a decade now the town has planned for a destination park in Cary’s downtown. While I appreciate the charette team’s efforts to take one last look at this site, after reviewing previous plans and community input it is clear that we got it right the first time – a large central park in Cary’s downtown.

Downtown Park Site

The downtown park site is the property surrounded by Academy, Park, Walker and Walnut Streets and totals nearly 14 acres. Two historic home sites also occupy this property, and the Mayton Inn Hotel project will be located on the park site as well at the corner of Park and Academy Street. This leaves about 10 ½ acres for development of a town center park.

Planing a Park

Countless hours and a thorough community input process went into planning for the downtown park. The Town Center Area Plan, the Town CenterCivic and Cultural Arts Study, the Downtown Streetscape Plan and the Town Center Park Plan all reflect those efforts and calls for a large downtown park and town square.

Here are a couple of examples of past plans.

Downtown_Park_Concept_TCAP (2)

Downtown_Park_Final_Concept_Plan

The town has now assembled nearly all the property necessary for the development of the town center park, and you the voters approved the Parks and Rec bond this past fall providing an additional $2 million in funding for park design and construction.

So we’re finally ready to build the park right?

Nope. 🙁

The Charette

Cary’s Downtown Development Manager, Ed Gawf wanted to “take one last look” at the park site, or “opportunity site” as he calls it. Eight urban planners, landscape architects, developers and the like were brought in from out of town for a “charette”. A charette is a fancy word for a group of folks coming together to plan or design. They were in town for two days to brainstorm ideas.

What they came up with resembled nothing like the previous park plans.

The “charette team’s” suggestion is a measly 3-4 acre urban park surrounded by development on all four sides of the park site. There would be 4-5 entrances into the park in between buildings and no town square.

Downtown_Park_Charette_Concept-2

This is NOT the park that was promised and sold to the community.

Park, Not Development

The town spent over $8 million to acquire the downtown park property from landowners. We used public funds to acquire private land to provide for a public use – a park; not to assemble land for development.

In fact, going back to 2001 I can only find two instances where the council supported any development on the town center park site – one was a library (public use) and the other the Performing Arts Center (public use). Even with those two proposals, the park still consumed the majority of the site. The only retail or residential uses that I recall being discussed were considered as a means to “hide” a parking structure that a new regional library or the performing arts center would require.

Downtown_Park-2

Downtown Park with Regional Library Concept

What’s the Rush?

What is the rush to develop this site anyways? Town investment was meant to motivate private investment. It seems we are putting the cart before the horse by not giving the private sector time to react. Previous plans envisioned properties across the street from the park redeveloping as folks would want to locate near the park. Shouldn’t we at least give that a chance to happen?

And if assembling land is such an impediment to redevelopment – which it is – shouldn’t the council have that discussion? Seriously, let’s have an honest conversation about it and see what our options are – but this just feels like a bait and switch.

Purpose

If your ONLY goal for the park is to redevelop downtown then the charette team’s plan probably makes sense to you. I however, don’t recall that being the park’s primary purpose. Sure, we hope that it encourages redevelopment, but we also intended to preserve and protect what little bit of green space we have left downtown – very similar to the debate regarding the Dix property in Raleigh. Once this green space is gone, it will be gone forever….unless of course the town wanted to buy it and turn it into a park…again….

The park will provide public space for community events, festivals and outdoor concerts downtown. An outdoor amphitheater with water features and a sculpture garden is envisioned. With less than 1.5% of the land downtown being public space, area residents are far underserved when compared to other communities.

We also intended the downtown park to serve as a park for all Cary residents – not just those fortunate enough to live or work in the proposed buildings around the park. Look at the charette team’s concept again – does that feel like a Cary park or a private park to you? As the number of residents downtown increases, the need for park space will be even greater.

Final Words

While I appreciate the charette team’s efforts to take one last look at this site, after reviewing previous plans and community input it is clear that we got it right the first time – a large central park in Cary’s downtown.

This council has an opportunity to do something remarkable by preserving as much of the park site as possible. I hope we make the right decision.

Please let the council know your thoughts by contacting us at council@townofcary.org.

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8 replies
  1. Gary
    Gary says:

    I really like the tranquil, peaceful view of a “lake” at the top of your blog post.

    Put in a small lake. Stock it with the same catfish that Bond Park gets. Recruit a seafood restaurant for water’s edge. Make it a destination for Amtrak travelers to dine by the lake. So much better than all the China-sourced “farm-raised” (in acid rain-polluted ponds) seafood that clog the grocery stores.

    If possible, consider placing current fire sculpture at bottom of new lake to sort of create a fish habitat, perhaps for other pan fish to grow & thrive.

  2. Dean
    Dean says:

    Maybe the Town of Cary should get off of its Agenda 21 kick and let private developers develop and stop wasting tax payer dollars.

    How many parks do we already have? How many miles of greenway? Is there any guarantee that people will come to downtown, if a park is built there?

    Let downtown take the natural course. Eventually it will get cheap enough that developers will come in, tear down and then rebuild. Cary citizens have seen increases in the cost of water, gas, and now property taxes within the last year. Duke Progress Energy will also give us an electricity cost increase. For a place that keeps growing and adding to the tax base, the government seems to be finding ways to spend even faster than its citizens can increase their income.

  3. Brent
    Brent says:

    The answers to Dean’s questions:
    – Cary has 29 parks (roughly one for every 5,000 residents)
    – If my math is correct, Cary has 47.55 miles of greenways (about 2 feet for each resident)
    – No, there is no guarantee that people will come downtown if a park is built there. There are very few guarantees in urban planning, and I will assert that having this downtown park, in whatever form it materializes, will have many benefits (certainly its sole purpose is not to draw people downtown…although it most likely will).

    If I recall correctly, a significant majority of the voters in the last election approved a bond measure that includes money for the downtown park.

  4. Cody
    Cody says:

    As a downtown resident and a taxpayer, I would ask that you just do something. We have waited long enough for all the talking heads to get their act together and do something. We have enough cheap art, now we need some actual decisions.

    Build a park, build a park and sell off some of the land for development, or sell it all. Just make a decision and do it!

    • Brent
      Brent says:

      Cody, I agree that there was too much talk and planning initially, but at the same time, there’s been much recent “do something”:
      – Cary Arts Center completion
      – Cary Theater groundbreaking with work underway
      – Numerous property purchases (land and buildings)
      – Jones house renovation starting
      – (at least a temporary) downtown Farmers Market
      – numerous special events downtown
      I believe that one of the ramifications of passing the bond is that the park work will get underway relatively quickly. Granted, it’s been a long wait and it seldom seems that things move quickly enough, but things are happening and all indications are that they’ll continue to happen.

  5. Mike
    Mike says:

    Delighted to see this from the mayor. It is most definitely in tune with the homeowners of Downtown Cary. My Downtown neighbors and I especially like the plans that include a town square – we think it could serve as a significant landmark, public space, and attractor. We favor the idea of creating a great public destination and allowing private development to occur naturally around it. What’s happening in Downtown is great – let’s keep up the momentum!

  6. Hal Goodtree
    Hal Goodtree says:

    Gary –

    “If possible, consider placing current fire sculpture at bottom of new lake to sort of create a fish habitat, perhaps for other pan fish to grow & thrive.”

    Very droll.

Comments are closed.