Riverfront park vision detailed to council

A cascading water wall. Steps and lawn terraces facing the Dan River. An oval lawn large enough to throw a Frisbee, hold a community concert, host a Flag Day event or stage food truck rodeos.

Those are all part of a vision for a Riverfront park proposed by a design firm hired by the city. It would be located on four acres at Memorial Drive and Main Street between the White Mill building and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge.

A designer at DHM Design Inc. in Raleigh, North Carolina, presented the conceptual plan during a Danville City Council special work session Tuesday evening.

Principal Graham Smith and Landscape designer Jeremy Arnett prepared the conceptual plan. Smith presented the plan to council

The plans include “a very engaging public space that includes a splash pad/waterplay area. From there, a cascading water wall leads to steps and lawn terraces that face the Dan River and partially encircle the much larger community lawn area. The oval lawn is large enough to throw a Frisbee, hold a community concert, host the Flag Day event, and stage Food Truck Rodeos.”

The plans also call for highlighting the architecture of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge.

Possible lighting of the bridge could extend the park’s effect across the Dan River to attract visitors to the space, according to the plan.

A trail extension cutting across the park’s northern boundary would connect at the parking area and trailhead at Main Street Plaza, according to the plan.

“This trail extension is designed extra wide and of a more unique pavement material in order to act as a promenade that allows casual visitors to overlook the water surface and its activities,” according to the plan.

The promenade — on the side that would face the river — would fall away into a series of concrete steps allowing users to sit close and touch the water, according to plans. The idea is to “pull the river back into the landscape,” Smith said.

A proposed multi-age play place, a kayak/canoe put-in and a small parking area would be at the western end of the park.

The bulk of the site park would be in a floodplain, Smith pointed out to councilmen Tuesday evening.

“Most of the site is a 100-yewar-old floodplain,” he said, adding that it restricts how to develop the site.

“This whole site will flood in a 100-year flood,” he added. “We do want to make sure we create a park that is resilient.”

Councilmen questioned Smith about the design.

Lee Vogler noted that a proposed sand beach area — where visitors could lay out in the sun — was switched out for turf.

“Is that still going to be possible if it’s turf?” Vogler asked Smith.

“We thought turf would hold up better,” Smith responded, adding that there could be a sandy pocket further up the hill.

Councilman Larry Campbell Jr. asked if a skate park area would be feasible.

Space-wise, it could be done, Smith said. However, mixing skaters and small children “might not be the best plan,” Smith added.

Campbell said he wanted the park to be relatable to as many age groups as possible.

Councilman Gary Miller also said he liked the idea of a beach along the river, but had a problem with the lawn area split into several sections.

Vogler pointed out that with a divided lawn area, visitors could partake in a variety of activities instead of having one group taking over the area.

Other features would include an entry plaza and transportation improvements.

The main entry to the plaza would be located at the intersection of Main Street and Memorial Drive, according to the plan.

Brick pavers would visually connect the entrance to the existing brick crosswalks into the site and decorative bollards protect pedestrians from vehicles. From the entry, the visitor would have three options to choose from: small seating nooks and landscaped area to the right; down the steps to the splash pad in the center; or the accessible ramp to a sprayground and playground beyond on the left, according to the plan.

The project also includes separate but paralleling transportation improvement studies which include a road diet along Memorial Drive to account for parallel parking and a downtown trolley bus stop, according to the plan.

The conceptual plan also calls for space for an artistic shelter to provide shade and interest to the park. Either side of the water wall would be the curvilinear turf steps that invite visitors to relax, read a book, or people-watch activity on the lawn.

The lawn and stage would entail a relatively flat lawn area housing the stage at one end. Decorative concrete bands break up the turf to provide contrast and to discourage large-scale active recreation, according to the plan. The stage and shelter would be flush with the turf and its supports can be deconstructed in case of potential flooding in an effort to mitigate floodplain concerns, according to the plan.

Surrounding the lawn would be an asphalt walking loop with landscaped areas to offer a small sense of enclosure, according to the conceptual plan.

Playground and climbing boulders also would be included.

As for the parking area and water access, a small parking area would provide 10 parking spaces, including two accessible spaces as well as a small drop-off area.

“The design relies on nearby parking lots, parking structures, and future projects to account for the increase in parking need,”according to the plan. Adjacent to the parking area would be two bioswales aimed at capturing and treating the first flush of stormwater run-off, according to the plan. Visitors would also be able to access the water for non-motorized watercraft via a winding ramp connected to the parking lot.

An analysis of conditions at the site also found:

» The nearby existing (White Mill) dam plays a major role in the overall park experience by providing both an audio and visual element as well as having significant impact on the water levels of the site;

» Viewsheds into and out of the park are important items to consider given the topography and major entryway into the downtown Danville area;

» The streambank continues to erode due to the lack of riparian vegetation and fluctuating river currents;

» The Riverwalk greenway trailheads at the Martin Luther King Jr. Bridge and there is an existing easement dedicated to its expansion through the park;

» The park plays a role in providing sidewalk connections on its perimeter;

» The recently renovated Main Street Plaza and comfort station provide much needed public facilities and a pedestrian-friendly connection point to the park.

In early 2016, Danville, led by the parks and recreation department, solicited firms for a Riverfront Park plan.

Public workshops were held in the summer and fall presenting conditions at the site and seeking public input on what they wanted in a park.

A short survey was handed out during the summer, as well as a link to a digital version of the questionnaire in order to get public feedback as for three weeks after the event.

DHM received about 275 responses to the survey, including many written responses describing what people wanted for the park.

About 50 people attended the fall workshop held in November, where they chose among two possible park concepts. About 90 participants also completed a survey choosing among the two concepts while including elements from the other concept.

Crane reports for the Danville Register & Bee.

John Crane reports for the Danville Register & Bee. Contact him at jcrane@registerbee.com or (434) 791-7987.

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