Plans for the expansion of Flat Branch Park were presented to the public at a Thursday meeting that outlined two phases to restore and improve the area, but some details still remain undecided.
The meeting in the Walton Building at 300 S. Providence Road drew dozens of residents. Deb Sheals of Columbia’s Historic Preservation Commission and senior park planner Mike Snyder shared the master plan for the expansion that would extend the park north to Broadway and Providence Road.
The Parks and Recreation Department hopes to fund the entire project, with an estimated cost of $1.5 million, through fundraising. The Downtown Community Improvement District has already made a substantial contribution.
Sheals said the master plan as proposed is not a final design, and the vision for the park could change depending on the amount of money raised. The committee designing the new park property will start deciding on individual elements of the plan once its financial resources are known.
The target date to begin the expansion is sometime in March 2020, but there is no official date set. The plan is to finish it by March of 2021, in time for the city’s bicentennial.
The restoration and expansion will be executed in two phases. The first phase will be rooting up trees, cleaning up weeds and upgrading lights in the existing Flat Branch Park.
“Light is a big deal down here, just like the rest of downtown,” Sheals told the Community Improvement District Board of Directors during a Tuesday meeting. “We want more light here. We want it to feel safer and look safer.”
The second phase is the expansion onto city-owned property at the southeast corner of Providence and Broadway. During this process, concrete that now covers the creek will be removed.
The expansion also calls for several decorative elements. A bridge, which would incorporate more lighting, would go across the creek midway through the new part of the park.
An overlook with a roofless stage will serve as a viewing area of the creek. It might also be used for performances.
“If you want to have a band up there, or you want to have a speaker, or you want to show a movie, it can double as that,” Sheals said.
The plan calls for three sculptures, one facing the end of the north side of the bridge and two others on the east and west ends of the park. There are no designs for the sculptures yet.
A donor wall would be built along the sidewalk to highlight those who donated to the expansion.
Plans also call for reinstalling brick pavement on Fourth Street immediately east of the park, but it’s undetermined how long it would take to start or complete that project.
The final phase involves the downtown gateway, an art installation previously approved by the city in 2015.
Robbie Price, an architect with Simon Oswald Architecture, who represented himself and a small group of private citizens at the meeting, said his group has some ideas about how to make the park more functional for the general public. One concern is ensuring that the bridge meets the accessibility requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Mark Stevenson, who owns properties on the east side of the park expansion, said he worries about his tenants losing their parking.“I believe in 90 percent of the ideas are worth considering,” Stevenson said, except “where they have taken some valuable and much needed parking and replaced it with landscaping.”
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.