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6/17/2004

Park on Main

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — A small but historic piece of downtown is being considered for a major makeover.

Last year, the Longmont Downtown Development Authority bought the vacant, grassy land on the southern and eastern portion of the former St. Stephen’s Church lot at the southeast corner of Fifth Avenue and Main Street.

A committee of interested downtown businesspeople, residents and a member of the St. Vrain Historical Society has met three times to discuss plans for the space, and out of those meetings have come recommendations for what may be called St. Stephen’s Plaza — though the property has no official name yet.

“The first year it’s shown on the capital improvement project was 1988,” said Mary Murphy-Bessler, the LDDA’s executive director.

The CIP is a “wish list” of projects various departments in the city would like to see completed — some funded, some not. Even 16 years ago, the downtown pocket park project was called St. Stephen’s Plaza, “5,700 square feet of property to be developed as a public square.”

“If approved by the LDDA board, Play Environments” — a local landscape architect company — “would design to build, and then contractors would bid on it,” Murphy-Bessler said. “The LDDA would pay for it — we would probably break this down out of several different funds.”

Based on discussions at three committee meetings, Play Environments has come up with what it calls Master Plans A and B. The “Taj Mahal” design, as Murphy-Bessler called it, would carry a price tag of about $307,000 — more than half of that total going for a proposed interactive water fountain.

“What you’re paying for is the recirculation equipment,” said Nancy Eletto of Play Environments. Using recirculated rather than potable water would help conserve the sparse resource, she said.

Eletto and her partner-husband, Bruce Pizzimenti, were meeting with a third water feature manufacturer Wednesday, continuing to shop around for the best available bid.

The couple will go in front of the LDDA board for the second time at its next monthly meeting on June 23, presenting the two options for the plaza.

Without the fountain, the price tag for Plan A drops significantly, to around $120,000. Plan B, which has a granite waterfall but no interactive fountain, has a price tag of about $150,000.

But the interactive fountain is a big draw for the committee members, Eletto said, and when the water is shut off it could double as a performance area.

Plan A also features “rooms” where people could gather, including a parlor, game room and study. Tables in the rooms would be permanent, but the chairs would be movable, making it somewhat similar to a European plaza.

“We want people to stop and talk,” Pizzimenti said.

Both plans contain extensive landscaping additions, especially shade trees, and the north wall of Miller Music, which borders the site, would be covered in vine trellises alternating with Trompe L’Oeil art. Pronounced “trump loy,” these are large three-dimensional themed murals that would add a dramatic accent to the south end of the site.

Dale Bernard of the St. Vrain Historical Society sat on the design committee. The historical society owns the building — which currently houses the Polar Bear Art Gallery — and the strip of land on the building’s north side. The society will pay for its portion of the site’s makeover, Bernard said.

“We wanted to safeguard the historic integrity of the church, because it’s not only a locally designated landmark but it’s on the National Register of Historic Places,” she said.

St. Stephen’s Church, built in 1881, is one of the oldest buildings still standing on Main Street. Two other structures that stood on the east and south end of the site were demolished in the mid-’70s, Bernard said.

“We think the idea of having a pocket park downtown is wonderful,” Bernard said. “It would be a real boom to downtown.”

Murphy-Bessler said ultimately that any revamping of the site would have to go through city processes. If the idea does get approved by her board and the city, Murphy-Bessler said the park would fill a needed void in the downtown area.

“We love coming downtown, but it’s just always so hard having your child in tow on that busy street,” she recalls a friend telling her.

Eletto — whose company has done the landscape architecture for Athletic Field Park, between 10th and 11th avenues on Kimbark Street, and Pioneer Park in Berthoud, among other local projects — agrees that the proposed St. Stephen’s Plaza could continue what the downtown streetscape renovation started four years ago.

“Yes, there’s a dollar figure on this that’s higher than people expected, but ... this will be a major enhancement for downtown,” said Eletto. “I look at this site as a jewel — I think it’s the jewel of downtown. There’s just so much potential with this site.”

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.