Planning committee re-envisions Hance Park

(Alexis Macklin/DD)
The new Hance Park Master Plan, discussed last week during a series of meetings, could make the park a destination for the downtown community and visitors.
(Alexis Macklin/DD)

Interactive water features, community gardens, food concession stands, improved bike paths and an amphitheater for outdoor concerts were among the ideas proposed by community members Sept. 25 for the redesign of Phoenix’s Margaret T. Hance Park.

More than 60 Phoenix residents met at Cutler Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center to discuss priorities for a new Hance Park Master Plan, which could make the park a destination for the downtown community and visitors.

Wednesday’s workshop was the last of a weeklong series of meetings that brought community members and the park’s team of designers and architects together. Beginning next week, the design team will use the suggestions from these meetings to draft the master plan, which is set to be completed in March of 2014.

“This is the kind of foundational work that the team will take in, and hopefully when we see the master plan … we will see that they have listened,” said Louise Roman, marketing chair for Hance Park Conservancy, an advocacy group for the park.

Haley Ritter of Phoenix attended the workshop and said that bicycle access was one of her main requests. Ritter has epilepsy, which prohibits her from driving. Instead, she has been using her bicycle as her main method of transportation around the Valley for the past 18 years.

“I want to see safe, effective bicycle infrastructure,” Ritter said. She suggested improving bicycle access paths through the park and installing bike racks.

Members of the design team presented examples of things happening in parks across the world before breaking attendees into groups for three interactive brainstorming sessions. Jerry van Eyck, the lead designer of the project, said he was looking for the audience’s reaction to these images by watching their facial expressions and body language.

“Before we start the design process, we really want to charge ourselves with all the knowledge that is available,” van Eyck said. He added that community input is an important source of knowledge as the team begins to envision the design.

Attendees answered questions such as “I love Hance Park because…” and “the identity of Hance Park could be much stronger if…” by writing their responses on boards around the room. They also ranked visual elements and amenities of other parks around the world.

Many suggested adding things like community events and a more welcoming entrance to integrate the surrounding neighborhoods and draw people to the park.

Ritter said that interactive water features and activities such as yoga classes could drive people to the park.

“They should make it a very functional, inviting place and … a more active space,” Ritter said.

Roman added that Hance Park, located at Central Avenue and Arizona Interstate 10, offers a lot of opportunities for community engagement and innovative design because of its position downtown.

“Hance Park is a very unique piece of infrastructure in our city. It is centrally located. It is 32 acres in size. It has amazing assets around it. It has historic neighborhoods around it,” Roman said.

The design team tasked with creating the master plan includes local, national and international names. The team has a contract with the city of Phoenix and began their work in July 2013. Phoenix Parks and Preserve Initiative will fund the project.

The New York-based design company !melk‘s founder van Eyck is the lead designer. Scottsdale’s architecture studio Weddle Gilmore is acting as the prime consultant and Phoenix’s landscape architecture firm Floor Associates is the project’s landscape architect. These designers are joined by 12 other team members, ranging from local stakeholders to organizations from around the country.

“Our aim is to come up with something beautiful as well as uniquely Phoenix,” van Eyck said. “It’s very important to us that this is not our park, or that this is not a park belonging to the city of Phoenix … our intention really is to make it your park.”

Hance Park was first dedicated in 1992. In 2010, stakeholders and the city of Phoenix recognized that it was time to update the nearly 20-year-old design.

A committee was then tasked with re-envisioning the design of the park. After meeting for about a year and a half, the committee decided that design and architecture professionals should draft the master plan, Roman said.

After an extensive evaluation and interview process, the team led by !melk, Weddle Gilmore and Floor Associates was selected.

“They as professionals will evaluate what’s doable, what’s sustainable, best practices, and once the master plan comes forward it will take a lot of energy and really solid help with private partnerships to actually realize what their plan envisions,” Roman said.

The team will present its concept design at a community meeting on November 20 before finalizing the master plan.

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