The city’s Department of Recreation and Parks will be taking the lead in updating Patterson Park’s Master Plan, a task which Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake expects to be completed by the end of the year.
“Our goal is to get this done, signed off on, and gift-wrapped for City Hall by Christmas time,” said Recreation Chief Bob Wall at a meeting held last Thursday for residents involved in the master planning process.
To recap, once again: Last summer, the Patterson Park Working group—made up of representatives from stakeholder groups and neighborhood associations from around the park—came to an agreement that allowed senior citizens access to Patterson Park’s Casino building, which is now the location of the John Booth-Eleanor Hooper Senior Center. The agreement included a plan that slightly increased the park’s interior parking capacity, mainly in the Virginia Baker Recreation Center parking lot.
The Working Group was formed in the first place following community outcry over a city proposal that added 90-plus parking spaces to Patterson Park. Back then, the refrain was “No more cars; no more parking; no more paving.” Faced with community outrage, the mayor ordered the formation of the Working Group, charged with “building upon the existing master plan to create comprehensive, community-driven strategies to enhance green space, increase traffic safety, and facilitate improved recreational opportunities in and around Patterson Park.”
The Working Group met on a monthly basis through the end of last summer. Shortly before that point, the members of the Working Group representing the community associations met separately and came to agree upon the plan that slightly expanded the Virginia Baker Recreation Center parking lot.
Under the community’s plan, that lot would have been modestly expanded by moving back a retaining wall. After some initial friction, the larger Working Group agreed to move forward with the plan, though Parks Chief Bill Vondrasek warned that it may be expensive. At the same time, the city money allocated to design firm Mahan Rykiel to professionally facilitate the meetings ran out, and Working Group meetings ceased.
The city recently decided that the parking lot expansion, which a city cost estimate put at $500,000, was too expensive for a recreation center that it said may or may not be viable for the park’s future needs.
“We came to the conclusion that maybe we don’t have to do that right now,” was how Kraft put it last month, when he called the Working Group and other interested citizens back together to take a more comprehensive look at the Patterson Park Master Plan.
Kraft asked residents to volunteer for subcommittees to look at different aspects of the master plan, including capital improvements; maintenance and governance; ecology and natural resources; programming; historical connections; and finance—i.e. how to pay for all this.
At last Thursday’s meeting, Kraft announced that each committee now has between 15 and 20 members signed up, except for the “historical connections” committee, which had “about a dozen.”
The committees will meet on their own, as needed. Kraft has stated that being on a committee will be a lot of work.
The committees will come together periodically for facilitated sessions with Recreation and Parks and Mahan Rykiel, which is again being tapped as facilitator. Wall stated in a previous interview that about $100,000 in city money has been allocated to the process.
Kraft said that Rawlings-Blake’s decision to put Recreation and Parks in charge of the process is “great from my office.”
“We can play a little more of an advocacy role than we would be playing in an administrative capacity doing this,” Kraft said.
A resident questioned the mayor’s motives.
“Should we be concerned that this is the mayor making sure it’s her way?” he said.
“The committees are going to drive this master plan,” said Wall. “The committees drove the master plan before. No matter what goes in at my level, at Jim’s level, at the mayor’s level—the citizens—the voters—are going to be what drives this.”
by Erik Zygmont