Eric Ford gets a little uneasy when he sees kids splashing around in the City Hall Park fountain. As the communications director for Burlington City Arts, which backs onto the park, he’s seen his share of dubious behavior in that water. Who knows what could be floating in there?
Anyone who shares those doubts about the current state of the park may be happy to know that BCA recently received a $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for the purpose of visualizing what Burlington’s downtown park might look like. It’s one of 51 grants awarded to communities nationwide that are aimed at shaping the “physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, city or region around arts and cultural activities.” The cash will cover an eight-month planning process for “Imagine City Hall Park,” during which BCA will solicit suggestions from local residents.
“We want to take everyone’s feedback and work with designers and architects [on a plan],” says Ford. Then BCA will apply for another grant to break ground on … whatever comes next.
The suggestions are already rolling in. BCA set up a StoryCorps-style video-recording booth at the recent Festival of Fools and collected hundreds of responses, many of which will be posted to BCA’s Imagine City Hall Park Facebook page. People are encouraged to post their own memories of the park and ideas to improve it. BCA also plans to set up suggestion tables at all upcoming events.
Ideas from the public so far include filling the park with a gigantic maze, a play area with slides, more flowers and sculptures. Personally, Ford says, he’d like to see some well-thought-out public art. “Not just slapping some art down, but also looking at the whole project and involving artists in the design,” he suggests.
City Hall Park has seen plenty of changes over the years. That fountain? It’s actually a historic horse trough salvaged from the waterfront in the 1980s. A black-and-white photograph on the project’s Facebook page reveals that the park was full of stately trees and lush grass in the early 1900s.
Not all plans have worked out as they were intended. The space directly in front of the west-side City Hall steps, now covered with shrubs, was actually designed as a small performance area, Ford notes. “The idea was for people to gather on the steps and watch something,” he says. “Now they’re trying to deter [people from loitering on the steps]. It was a really great idea, but it didn’t really function that well.”
Here’s the chance to give it another try.
Post your suggestions for the park at facebook.com/ImagineCityHallPark, or submit them at any BCA Center event.