So there has been much ado lately about discussions, ideas, opinions and plans for some kind of facility, building, offices, veterans’ facility, etc. at Veterans Park. It seems that some of the speculation and rumors were laid to rest at this past week’s PRAC meeting where City Manager Roger Hernstadt presented some of those ideas.
So as usual, I am going to look at this issue from an architectural point of view. I like to divorce the hearsay and sticky political mumbo jumbo from things. After all, after the years have passed and we are all long gone, what is left? In many cases the answer is the architecture we created. So let’s take a look at what Veterans Park is, what we voiced we wanted it to be, and what, perhaps, it could or should be.
Undoubtedly Veterans Park is a very special tract of land. It has the potential to really become the piazza, the plaza, the public square of Marco Island. Its position within the island sets it at the heart of the commercial corridor and serves as a perfect transition from residential and low density commercial to the commercial core of the island, or at least one of the commercial cores of the island.
From a planning point of view this is not a revelation. Past charrettes or design think tanks have developed designs for the “mid-town” plan, and of course, all of these had Veterans Park at their center. So all other issues or concerns aside, what should Veterans Park be? I would say the simple answer is, well, simple – a park, of course. However, if we look at the selected plan, which is a two-phase plan that was developed and selected back in 2009, we see that Marco Island citizens selected a facility that mixes open lawns with a large performing arts center, band shell, and concession/restroom facilities. There is no sign of a commercial structure to be found. I would propose that perhaps in lieu of a performing arts center that perhaps City Hall could be relocated to Veterans Park? It seems that we may have some redundancy of uses as of late with “community use” spaces planned at the new Mackle Park. Ever since plans have moved forward with Mackle Park, the facility seems to have shrunk from the originally suggested 16,000 square foot facility, as proposed by PRAC, to a mere 10,000 square feet. Perhaps we should reconsider the plans for both sites and see how they can best work in unison; Mackle Park providing for recreational uses and the arts, and Veterans Park serving as the new civic center and public square of the city.
I would go one step further and propose that perhaps our city should look to promote re-development around Veterans Park. The city should perhaps provide development density bonuses for new mixed-use projects. They should set a plan in place so properties that front Veterans Park are encouraged or required to develop pedestrian-friendly frontages. Properties along Collier Boulevard should be encouraged or required to develop their properties with dual frontage, one along Collier and one fronting Veterans Park. Retail liners could face both Collier and Veterans Park, perhaps hiding structured parking behind the liners? Veterans Park can then have on-street parking only along the street perimeter, and we can do away with surface parking lots. It would truly be a sad situation to spend $7 million on a project that, a) duplicates uses that are already being serviced or can be serviced elsewhere in the city, or b) have a beautiful park that faces the backs of commercial and light industrial buildings and oceans of asphalt parking lots. It would seem a complete waste of time, energy and money. Instead, let’s look to how cities traditionally evolve, through the mindful and creative promotion of commerce and good growth; Growth that will then fund and maintain the civic and public realms. If only Marco Island had a Medici or Sforza patron.
I’ve stated it before, and I will state it again: What we choose to leave behind will be what speaks of what we valued in our time. So let’s take the opportunity to plan carefully and responsibly, and always look to the future, mindful of what we leave behind in the past.