A Walk In the Park
by Tara Derock Mahoney | photos by Angelina Bellebuono
In the song “Big Yellow Taxi,” the singer laments “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”
But in Madison, they’ve torn up a parking lot and are busy putting up a paradise.
You’ve heard it before—but the City of Madison and the Downtown Development Authority say it’s coming. The exact date of completion is unknown—but it is coming.
“We’re opening the park in summer of 2009,” said Madison Planning and Zoning Director Monica Callahan in an interview this week. One of the first events to be held in the park this summer will be the brand-new “Firefly Festival” sponsored by Madison’s Main Street program, a multi-night family event in the park.
Some existing events will also be moved to the park as time goes on, and ground zero for entertainment will be the structure that is causing the most talk downtown right now, the Harris Bicentennial Pavilion, currently identifiable in the emerging park by its 16 tall Greek-revival columns. (Sharp observers will note that the columns match those on the nearby James Madison Inn; all of the columns were salvaged from a house on Georgia’s coast.)
“The pavilion will be Madison Main Street’s main stage downtown,” said Ann Huff, director of the Madison Main Street program.
The pavilion was funded by a $105,000 gift from the Sarah “Sally” and J.D. Harris Foundation. The foundation was the first group to support and fund the park several years ago, but upon completion this summer, the gifts of a number of local families and foundations will be seen and shared by all who visit downtown.
There is the Pennington Gazebo, which will be the last structure built in the park, a two-story affair that will eventually stand inside the park at the corner of North Second and West Jefferson Streets.
There is the already-installed Cooke Fountain, funded by a $100,000 gift from area resident Stephen D. Cooke; the Grecian Lady atop the cast-iron fountain (a replica of a fountain that stood before the county courthouse 100 years ago) overlooks the site of the Main Gate on West Jefferson, a portal funded by $5,000 gifts from more than 25 local families.
An octagonal seating area will surround the Cooke Fountain, funded in part by the Lurey Family. The fountain will be reached and surrounded by a pathway, called the Promenade, made up of the hexagonal brick pavers that were once the norm in Madison.
“The pavers are representative of what was once used all over downtown,” said Huff.
The Promenade will stretch from Thomson Street to North Second Street, with lights sponsored by the heirs of the Vason Family, including Wayne Vason and Anthony Hopkins; the Promenade will be defined by the Promenade Gates, which were funded by United Bank; on West Washington Street will be a pair of Corner Gates, funded by the Bank of Madison.
“Our local banks have participated heavily in the park,” noted Callahan.
The entire park will be enclosed by a cast-iron fence on a masonry base. Around the gazebo, a brick patio funded by the Bryans Family Foundation will provide an outdoor living area of sorts, scattered with metal table-and-chair sets funded by local families. Also in this area will be the bronze busts of Daniel Morgan (generously donated by Shandon and David Land) and of James Madison (generously donated by Chris Lambert, who is also a principal fundraiser for the park).
East of the Main Gate will be another outdoor room, this one flanked by the 1830s Town Park Cottage, the $100,000 renovation of which was funded by Jane and the late Frank Carter. That project is nearly complete; when finished, the cottage will be the downtown home of the Madison Artists Guild. (An addition on the back also holds public restrooms.)
The area around the Town Park Cottage will be known as the Children’s Garden; it will not contain playground equipment, but it will be designated as a special place for children.
“When the Ferst Books Foundation wants to have an outdoor story hour, this will be the perfect place,” said Callahan. “If the Artists’ Guild wants to teach a children’s painting class, they can do it here.”
The Children’s Garden is funded by the Clarence and Kathy Whiteside Family; it will also feature a piece of statuary related to children.
The park will not be known as a “green space” for nothing; besides the Great Lawn that will surround the Harris Bicentennial Pavilion, more than 30 trees will ring the park, courtesy of Pritchard Farms and local families; still more trees (including a Christmas tree for Town Park) will be planted inside the fences.
Garden areas at either end of the Great Lawn have been funded by the Bearden and Newton families; lights in and around the park have also been sponsored by donors.
And when you simply want to sit and take in all the details of the city’s new corner of Paradise, you won’t have to search for long. More than 50 benches—some provided by the Glancy Foundation, others by local families—will be located in and around the new park.
All in all, donations totaling nearly $2 million—with $1.3 million of that in cash—and a further $1.4 million infusion from the city via its taxpayers will ultimately be used to acquire land and develop the park.
“Eventually, the Downtown Development Authority will hand over a $4.5-million asset to the City of Madison,” said Callahan. “The intent is for this to be a city park.”
And with the care—and time—that has gone into its development, as well as the care and money put into the project by city and county residents, city officials expect that it will be a joy to downtown visitors for generations and generations to come.
Printed in the March 19, 2009 Edition.