January 2, 2011 in Idaho Voices

McEuen Field would be reimagined in new dream

Jacob Livingston jackliverpoole@yahoo.com
 
On the Web

To see drawings of design concepts for McEuen Park, go to www.mceuenpark.com or go to facebook.com/mceuenpark

Coming up

On Thursday at 6 p.m., a public meeting will be held in the Coeur d’Alene Room at North Idaho College to discuss the McEuen Park plan.

If this dream were to become reality, McEuen Field would be no longer.

In its place: a 20-acre destination park designed from the ground up to serve “the greatest number of uses for the greatest number of people, of all ages and abilities, throughout all seasons,” according to the mission statement of Team McEuen, the four-person crew of engineers, architects and a landscape designer tasked with the park redesign.

This is McEuen Park, and it’s a radical departure from the fields, fences, lights and blacktop found between Front Avenue and the base of Tubbs Hill. The city boat launch, American Legion Baseball Field, softball fields and parking lots would make way for walkways, water features, public spaces and a variety of sport courts.

“When you look out there and see all the fences and light poles, they’re all gone,” explained Coeur d’Alene Parks Director Doug Eastwood at a recent meeting in the downtown Parkside building to discuss the project. Also gone are the softball and baseball fields, which would be moved to a city complex that is yet to be determined, and the boat launch, both of which are items Eastwood knew would be controversial within the community.

The boat launch, he continued, “creates this huge conflict between pedestrians and vehicles, so we thought ‘let’s move it,’” Eastwood said, adding that the boat launch use has dropped about 65 percent over the last decade, from about 7,000 boats per year to roughly 2,000, since the opening of the Higgens Point boat launch and Bureau of Land Management’s ramp on Blackwell Island.

As for the baseball and softball games, the 2011 season will continue at McEuen Field before possibly being moved to Coeur d’Alene High School, along with the removed McEuen Field lights.

The new park features are dynamic and abundant, designed to be accessible to all. Replacing the Freedom Tree in the parking lot south of Front Avenue and Fourth Street, a large water feature, dubbed “Freedom Fountain,” would greet visitors and serve as the central hub of the park. The clock tower on Sherman Avenue would be visible from the infinity pool-inspired, raised water feature, while a tree-lined, well-lit walkway would extend west along Front Avenue between Second and Third streets and the Centennial Trail, becoming open only to service vehicles.

There’s also a promenade, Harbor House, sport courts, a central pavilion and amphitheater, and more than 1,200 parking spaces, many of which are below street level.

If the vision doesn’t make it clear, financing was not a factor in laying the foundation for the McEuen Park design. The goal was to dream big on an equally large scale, Eastwood said, while linking the park’s strategic downtown location to the nearby green spaces and encouraging the downtown revitalization efforts.

“We designed it from the top down – let’s dream the dream and see what we come up with,” he said about the team’s approach to the project. “It’s looking at it as if it were a blank slate; what would you want to see if you could do design the park all over again?”

Team McEuen, comprised of landscape designer Dell Hatch, engineer Philip Boyd, and architects Dick Stauffer and Monte Miller, spent more than six months on the design phase. A 21-member, mayor-appointed steering committee, made up of various community groups and organizations such as the Tubbs Hill and Coeur d’Alene Parks foundations, Downtown Business Association, City Council, and boating/waterways and American Legion Baseball representatives, offered input.

The team also adhered to a mission statement and list of community values in dreaming up the redesign, knowing it’s a legacy venture meant to serve generations to come on some of North Idaho’s most desirable real estate.

Boat launch area would be overhauled

The concept calls for an overhaul of Front Avenue and the Third Street boat launch area. Parallel parking spaces would be diagonally reoriented on the two-way street running east to west, while the natural 20-foot grade dipping down into the fields would be excavated, adding a three-level parking garage for roughly 900 vehicles underground from Third to Sixth streets. Above ground, the current asphalt parking lot would be transformed into a green-roofed promenade, adding five acres to the park and stretching it in tiered form from the street level down to the Grand Plaza, which would feature a crescent-shaped veteran’s memorial, open space for the public, art work, farmers markets and other shows and exhibits, and finally to the cove’s waterfront steps, instead of the boat launch.

“This city already has a legacy of supporting the arts,” Stauffer said. “This becomes a great venue for public art … The plaza center is an area two-thirds the size of a football field; thousands of people could gather there. We don’t have anything quite like that in town, so there was a goal to create this place that could be the center of activity.”

The Centennial Trail would run parallel to the underground garage in a slight depression with a few footbridges crossing overhead, accessed from the Front Avenue level, keeping foot traffic and bike traffic separate. The crossings would connect to small towers within the park, and on the far western edge link the park to the boardwalk, overlooking the Coeur d’Alene Resort cruise boats’ mooring slips.

“So you don’t have that biker-pedestrian conflict,” explained Hatch, the team’s landscape architect. “The concept is to keep it broad and wide and lay those slopes back so there’s plenty of sunlight and not that feeling of being in a cattle chute.”

From the current boat launch parking spots near the base of Tubbs Hill, a Lake Front Promenade would run southeast along the seawall, itself carved back to make room for the cove, which would become an enclosed ice skating rink in winter blockaded by a submerged walkway that’s open during warmer months. A harbor house would offer tourist information and possibly restrooms at the southern tip of the promenade, while the entrance to Tubbs, flanked by a “pocket garden” to the north, would be repaved with a water feature running underneath the trailheads’ switchbacks that are sandwiched between rock outcroppings and smaller cliffs. The mooring slips would increase to 70 spaces.

In the center of the park, to the east of the sprawling amphitheater that’s larger than a football field and north of the sledding hill/lookout and Americans With Disabilities Act ½-mile trail on Tubbs Hill’s north side, sits the pavilion, capable of holding more than 250 people. A “pocket” dog park is planned near the southeastern entrance of the park, just below the ADA walkway on Tubbs Hill’s north side. A community center of sorts, the pavilion would house restrooms and concessions, as well as park administrators and maintenance. Northwest of the pavilion are two bocce ball courts, a kids’ play area and splash pad (roughly twice the size of Fort Sherman’s play area) sits directly east, and exercise stations, a skate park, and tennis, basketball and pickle ball courts can be found in the southeastern corner of the park.

The east entrance redesign, south of City Hall, features about 200 new parking spaces, creating a “true eastern gateway to the park,” Hatch said.

Another important aspect to the redesign is accessibility. Cobblestone streets and stamped-pavement walkways would be clear indicators of the pedestrian-oriented nature of the park.

“We wanted to make sure everything is barrier-free, and that’s universal throughout the park,” Stauffer offered.

The team toured areas in Minnesota and Vancouver, B.C., to examine public spaces in cities with similar climates and bodies of water.

“We came away with some wonderful ideas but more than anything, we came away with the idea that this is a really unique and fabulous setting, and there is nothing anywhere else quite like it,” Stauffer said. “We see water as a connective element, and something that is comforting to people and brings people to the park together, so we tried to incorporate it into any number of applications.”

Financial backing renews interest

Interest in the project, which stems from recommendations from the Hyett-Palma and Walker/Macy Downtown Public Places Master Plan more than 10 years ago, was renewed when the Lake City Development Corporation offered financial backing to kick start the redesign, though it’s too early in the design phase to put a total price on the project.

“We had (the Lake City Development Corporation) come in and say ‘We think we can help you financially if you can get this thing going,’ ” Eastwood explained.

About the deterioration of the park’s buildings and amenities, Stauffer said, “The combination of attrition, with the playground that you’ve lost and the tennis courts which were lost due to deterioration, there are not a lot of amenities (still in the park) … Slowly but surely the park is crumbling, so this is part of the answer to ‘why now?’ ”

Adds Eastwood: “The park is 40-plus-years-old and the infrastructure is just wearing out, so, again, that’s one of the opportunities to reconstruct and (answer) what can we do with it?”

The team hopes to hear feedback from the community, both positive and negative. This is, after all, a conceptual drawing, and nothing is set in stone, Team McEuen members said.


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