The City of Winter Park is adding amenities and gathering spaces at Martin Luther King, Jr. Park with the help of creative minds that specialize in collaborative designs – and collaboration is the most vital component.
Dix-Hite + Partners, Inc. is working with Winter Park’s Community Redevelopment Agency and the Parks and Recreation Department in the production of safety features and new play areas at Community Playground, located at 255 S. Denning Dr.
Also referred to as Castle Park – for the spires on its main climbing feature – the playground was built in 1987 using donated materials. Members of the community also volunteered their time to help with construction. Renovations are necessary to bring the facility up to current safety standards, and to add handicapped accessible elements. Planned upgrades include a splash park and other interactive features.
Despite the need for a new facility, many residents have voiced opposition to the removal of historic elements that make the park so endearing. According to Dix-Hite Principal and Partner Jessica Griggs, the project has become part renovation and part restoration.
“The city was really concerned that the public was taking the idea of a redesign to mean that they’re going to lose this beloved treasure,” she told the32789. “Residents were telling us stories about how they helped build it, how their kids played there, and now their kids are now grown and can’t wait to bring their kids. We want to make sure we listen to the community and use all their feedback to help form the design.”
New designs based on initial community feedback were presented during a February 7 public meeting. Residents were invited to critique renderings, and Griggs was among the Dix-Hite representatives who spoke with attendees and noted their ideas.
“We keep referring to all those notes as we work on design changes,” said Griggs. “We improved sight lines to make sure there are opportunities to see where your child is moving throughout the playground, and we are trying to save as much of the original castle while improving safety and using safe surfaces.”
Not far from the playground, a Martin Luther King Jr. memorial and community space, known as Unity Corner, is planned by the intersection of Denning Drive and Morse Boulevard. The concept is for three areas that inspire dialogue, engagement, and observation. A message wall and tiered seating will be incorporated into the landscape, and there will be additional space to host the annual Unity Heritage Festival.
Dix-Hite has provided preliminary designs, and according to Parks & Recreation Director Jason Seeley, community input continues to be an integral part of the process.
“We started off, probably about a year ago, having discussions with representatives from Hannibal Square Heritage Center and residents from the neighborhood,” said Seeley. “We have a consensus on how we want to start; once we get a concept for the statue it would definitely go before the CRA advisory board and the the Parks and Recreation advisory board.”
The city received several bids from a request for proposals in the creation of a memorial statue of Dr. King. The artist chosen for the project, Andrew Luy, is familiar with the process of creating public art and his resume includes a monument for The Underwater Museum of Art in Grayton Beach.
“The thing with public art is, there are different organizations that you need to satisfy,” Luy told the32789. “We want to involve the community, we want to make the city happy; it’s an iterative process.”
Luy has created design concepts to aid meetings that will determine the statue dimensions. While design parameters are necessary, there are opportunities to allow the creative process to guide the ideas that lead to the finished piece.
“I draw inspiration from lots of different sources, but I don’t want to replicate any particular one,” he said. “I want to take the best sources and combine them into a unique piece.”
“The goal is to have an open dialogue with the artist,” said Griggs. “Whatever his interpretation is for that statue, I want to make sure that the hardscape and the landscape around it ties in seamlessly. And there’s definitely going to be continuous dialogue with stakeholders and the city on this plan.”
As both projects hit their stride, the timelines become more clear. According to Seeley, the concepts for Community Playground would go to city later this summer. Scopes of work and the equipment purchasing process will be in place by December.
“There’s no good time to have that playground shut down,” said Seeley. “But if we’re only talking about a four-month process, we’d try to get it done between March and June so it can be open for the summer.”
Meanwhile, the Unity Corner plan is for construction to begin in September of this year with landscaping and hardscape complete by mid-January. Luy is confident in his team’s ability to deliver the statue within that timeframe. “We can work on the things that we need to deliver apart from the work that’s going on in the park,” he said.
As the process moves from concept to construction, the designers, engineers and and artists continue to keep the community in mind.
“We’re telling stories with these projects,” said Griggs. “Listening to how people react to the designs, whether it’s positive or not, is the best way to figure it all out. We can take a step back and make sure we get that story right.”