It's not as large as Cal Anderson Park, not as stately as Volunteer Park, but the recently named Plymouth Pillars Park is ready for its close-up.
The park, previously referred to as the Boren-Pike-Pine Park or Four Columns Park, consists of two small parcels of land that straddle Boren Avenue between Pine and Pike streets. Following years of planning, design and delays, during which time proposed uses for the park evolved, Plymouth Pillars Park will officially open to the public following a Saturday, Jan. 14, grand opening.
Improving the two park segments, which together comprise .6 acre, is a stated priority on the Pike-Pine neighborhood plan.
In the past the park has been notable more for its illegal uses and neglect, including homeless loitering and drug use, than as a place where neighborhood residents might use. The updates to the park, which cost more than $1.2 million, aim to transform the open space into a valuable neighborhood asset.
"People only used the park as a pedestrian walk way," said parks department project manager Lynn Sullivan, who has overseen park improvements for many years. "The legal uses of the park were pretty small compared to the illegal ones."
When it opens, Plymouth Pillars Park will contain, among other elements, an off-leash area for dogs, a pedestrian corridor and three plazas with tables, chairs and benches.
It is expected that incorporating a dog run in a small, urban park, will be an immediate attraction for residents who have dogs, given that neighborhood dog owners have lacked an off-leash area close to home.
Sullivan pointed to community efforts from the Pike-Pine Urban Neighborhood Council (P/PUNC) as being instrumental in keeping the park's redevelopment on track. The group initially worked with the Department of Neighborhoods. Following the passage of the Pro-Parks Levy in 2000, which earmarked $198.2 million for park improvements throughout the city, oversight for the project shifted to the parks department.
Nearly $1 million of the required funding for the project came from the Pro Parks Levy. Following considerable encouragement from P/PUNC, an additional $250,000 was secured from convention center mitigation funds. And Washington Holdings, the development company that is planning a new mixed-use project to replace the Olivetti building on the park's eastern edge, contributed $28,000 to the project. That project, which will include apartments and street-level retail adjacent to Plymouth Pillars Park, also should assist in transforming the area.
The idea of incorporating a dog run came fairly late in the game, and was the partly the result of a delay caused by a cost overrun in the park's initial redesign.
While the neighborhood and the Parks Department worked on addressing the financial side, an off-leash area created in Belltown's Regrade Park provided an example of a use that might work well in the Boren-Pike-Pine Park, as the park was then named. Regrade Park was also small in size and a haven for illegitimate social uses. Once converted to an off-leash area, it was embraced by Belltown residents.
"Regrade Park showed us that a dog run could work well in a smaller space," said Sullivan, who has been working on the park for years. "It proved to be a huge success in Belltown, so the Pike-Pine community became convinced it would be a success here."
The parcel on the east side of Boren, which in addition to the dog run and the plaza areas features three large urns bought at auction from the old Music Hall theater, will in all likelihood become "activated" quickly because so many dog owners are expected to use it the moment it opens.
The western parcel, noted for the four large columns that were at the old Plymouth Congregational Church and were donated to the city in 1967, does not possess such a specific use. It serves more as a gateway to the Pike-Pine neighborhood for those heading east from downtown. But it's been an area that people have walked by, not stopped in, and work in that segment is aimed at making and keeping it more inviting.
The space is meant to be more reflective and to allow for more passive uses. It takes advantage of the expansive views and the proximity to downtown. New lighting and the removal of several trees should enhance the sense of openness and make it a more appealing place to stop and read a book or have lunch.
As for the park's reputation as an unsavory place that attracted drug users and chronic alcoholics, Sullivan expects the renovation to be transformative
"We realize that regardless of what features we put in the park, its overall success will depend on programming and having people use it legitimately," Sullivan said . "People need to use the park, activate it, give it a healthy life. We're confident that will happen."
The Plymouth Pillars Park grand opening celebration takes place on Saturday, Jan. 14, at 1:30 p.m. near the corner of Pine Street and Minor Avenue.
Doug Schwartz is the editor of the Capitol Hill Times. He can be reached at editor@capitolhilltimes or 461-1308.