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If It’s Not A Study And It’s Not An Amphitheater . . . It Must Be A “Civic Plan”

Previous Elmwood Park Plans.

by Valerie Garner

Even though it walks like a duck just call it something else, says Roanoke City Council.

The budget briefing was moving along swimmingly Monday morning until a five letter word popped up. No, it wasn’t “Terry” as in McAuliffe this time. It was a word that strikes terror into Roanoke City taxpayers: “Study.” And it was quickly followed by another word with a similar association: “Amphitheater.” All told the words were uttered at a proposed cost of $300,000.

Council members panicked. “Let’s not call it a study,” said Councilman Ray Ferris. During the Capital Project Planning part of the budget, City Manager Chris Morrill suggested using $300,000 cash of the $1.3 million in reserve for the “Elmwood Park Civic Plan.”

“It’s not an amphitheater anymore,” said Ferris. Morrill then responded that, “it is a slash-amphitheater because whatever we do, we [will] have a performance platform. Community involvement is the critical piece . . . We want families and kids to come down there on weekends.”  It was noted that Elmwood Park could even be done in phases and involve an architect for fitting in the main library.

Trinkle cautioned spending a whole lot more money on it, but said, “It never hurts to do it again because things have changed a little bit.” Trinkle thought much of the information was already available for grading and tree canopy placement. Morrill pushed again saying he would, “still like the public to feel like they have a stake in it.”

Trinkle insisted that they had heard from the public already including Event Zone. He wanted the downsized version taken to the public. Morrill countered that, “I want to bring it out to the neighborhoods to people that haven’t come downtown with their family.” Council member Anita Price agreed with Morrill.

Morrill explained that the cost would involve landscaping firms. “You need concepts and models to respond to … to get real public input. This is a world-class project … no doubt about it.”

Ferris compared the project to the Countryside property planning in progress that was being accomplished in-house. Ferris said the public says to us “all you do is study … we need to communicate what we’re trying to do.”

Councilman Court Rosen agreed with Morrill that it was a more focused study and “if it’s going to cost 300 grand then it’s going to cost 300 grand.” He stressed that what is done is going to last for many years and is worth the expenditure to get it right.

Bowers said he’d heard from the previous city manager that “we want a world-class this and a world-class that and I don’t think that there is buy-in. I’ll go along with you to an extent but I’m not there yet,” said Bowers. Our citizens/voters will say “here they go again –they can’t make up their minds … we have studied things to death.”

Rosen clarified that it wasn’t just a study but called it “a working document.” Morrill agreed that “it would be something you could bid out.”

Bestpitch recommended using planning staff and the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. “Put those people to work,” said Bestpitch. The Planning Commission could get involved in a similar manner, as they did with the Master Plan for the Countryside property.

Trinkle reiterated that “this city deserves a world-class or state-of-the-art downtown park … a good stage … something that could be added to.”

Councilman Sherman Lea said, “Citizens ask where are the dollars going … the average Tom Jones that goes to work every day is struggling.” He hoped that they weren’t lost in the process.

Bowers remarked about a design charette saying, “we didn’t have anyone professional in with regards to Countryside … and we’ve done that process in the last six months with staff.”

Morrill didn’t back down saying, “we need to be thinking of multi-use.” He continued to push calling it a “concept plan” for Elmwood Park. “We have an incredible opportunity with Meridium coming in and the Patrick Henry, Jefferson College, City Market Building, Parking Garage,” he said.

In December 2010 when Council scrubbed the big Elmwood Park amphitheater project Vice-Mayor David Trinkle said that the park “is the gateway to the downtown area.” He wanted city staff to “go back to the drawing table” with the knowledge gained from past studies. In a July 20, 2009 blog post he estimated that consultant reports had already cost upwards of $800,000.

The total cost of the Red Light consultant study for both Reserve Avenue and Elmwood Park in April 2009 alone came to $211,500 according to Assistant Manager Brian Townsend.

In December Ferris called for an Elmwood Park redo that would cost $3 to $4 million. At that time Townsend confirmed that the city had the expertise in-house but that “at some point we have to transition to an architectural engineering firm for planning and construction.”

The last Elmwood Park amphitheater design would have seated 5,000 people at a price tag of $12.2 million. So council is moving forward with a study/concept plan/charette/redo of the Elmwood Park Civic Plan/amphitheater with or without the “ducks” to make it happen.

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