After nearly four years of planning and advocacy, Dignowity and Lockwood Parks are one step closer to being merged into one park.
The Historic and Design Review Commission gave the project preliminary approval at its Wednesday meeting. The two Eastside parks are located across Burnet Street from one another in the Dignowity Hill Historic District.
The proposed project has shrunk considerably since it was first presented to the Citizens Bond Committee in 2016. Elaine Kearney, managing principal at the local office of landscape architecture firm TBG Partners, said the City allocated $4.1 million to the park improvements project through the 2017 bond program. But that amount fell short of the funding required for the designers’ original vision, she said.
“The big vision we had put out prior to the bond included things like new buildings, sort of everything you could want to do, your dream park,” she said. “We estimated that would take about $8 million to execute. Once the actual funds were allocated, we knew we would have to look at prioritizing and think of this as a phased approach to getting a dream park.”
TBG Partners worked with other engineers and designers, including architecture firm Lake Flato, to develop a design for Dignowity and Lockwood Parks’ reimagining, Kearney said. During the design process, TBG Partners asked neighborhood residents what they considered top priorities for the park. The first priority is closing Burnet Street to traffic.
“Other priorities included upgrading the playground, and also improving circulation throughout the park,” Kearney said. “The existing sidewalks don’t connect the park very well in a useable way. There’s also been a pretty big desire to see safety and security improved.”
The project’s proposed improvements also include a fenced dog park, a splash pad, better infrastructure for large events in the park, and adding a restroom. Designers plan to improve lighting around the park and plant drought-resistant plants and shade trees. The trees help address neighborhood families’ original goal: to improve the playground.
“The current one is pretty sad and gets really hot in the summer – there’s no shade, the equipment’s outdated,” said Nicolas Rivard, director of public space improvements advocacy group called P.S. East.“And it’s a special spot at the literal top of Dignowity Hill and has an amazing view.”
The group helped organize community input meetings and gather public feedback on the Dignowity Park project. Paul Berry, chief communications officer for the City’s Transportation and Capital Improvements Department, said there will be another public meeting scheduled later this year to review updated design proposals. The City already has held two public input meetings about Dignowity and Lockwood Parks. The design is scheduled to be completed by December, Berry said.
Rivard also serves as the president of the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association. The idea to improve the park was born in June 2015, when families rallied together to redo the playground, he said. Community members participated in the design process for more than a year, and project planners were soon able to pitch their park improvement design to the 2017 bond committee, Rivard said.
Allison Hu, who leads P.S. East with Rivard, said she appreciated how much time the Dignowity Hill community invested in the project.
“It’s very interesting and exciting to see a project of this scale come off the ground,” she said. “I think it’s a testament to how much the community at large was very ready for a transformative improvement to the park.”
Rivard said he hopes this isn’t the end of improvements for Dignowity and Lockwood Parks.
“Basically, there’s a long-term vision, and this is Phase 1 of achieving it,” he said.
Project planners will have 12 weeks to finalize design for the park after getting preliminary approval on their proposal. As part of the review commission’s stipulations, designers will make sure that Burnet Street’s former presence is clearly outlined. Once the final designs are approved, they can start the bidding process and construction. Kearney estimated construction would start January 2020, and be finished by the end of that year.