Coral Gables staffers gathered with city residents at the War Memorial Youth Center Monday and Thursday nights to discuss plans for renovating Alhambra Circle and Maggiore parks.
Last fall, two similar meetings took place to discuss future elements to be added to renovations at the passive parks, part of the city’s neighborhood renaissance program.
Officials and AECOM, a consulting company that the city has hired to work on multiple projects, came back Monday night with a plan for the park from last year’s discussion, where residents said they wanted a place to mediate, sidewalks and open spaces, similar to the changes made in Ingraham Park.
Glenn Kephart, the city’s public works director, along with Parks and Recreation Director Frank Couceyro attended both meetings. Gustavo Santana, AECOM’s representative at the meeting, led both presentations in the community meetings.
“This is very important, this is your backyard, this is what you look into, so we want to make sure that this is a space that you will actually be proud of,” said Santana. “When the neighbors are proud of what’s out there, they take care of it, they take possession of it.”
The official concept revealed a playground area, open space, inclusion of existing vegetation, meditation area and low perimeter wall around the park. The play structure would be intended for 2- to 6-year-old children. Alhambra park is about the size of four housing lots of 50 feet wide by 105 feet long. The oval area was proposed to be 90 feet by 60 feet.
“We need it as simple as possible and clean as possible so that it ages eloquently,” said Santana.
Most residents were open to the ideas presented Monday night especially the addition of the flowering plants and trees, but were divided on the toddler playground and meditation area.
Some said the park should mainly be left as open space.
“This park would be lovely someplace else. I see kids riding their bike through the park and playing soccer. That to me is a fantastic use of that space,” said neighbor Jean Field. “It’s a neat concept, but what I’m saying is that open space is a premium and you’re taking that away.”
To counteract the issue of the playground, officials said that they could wait to fully design the play area and come back to that issue separately.
Other residents voiced a separate, but equally important concern about the traffic flow. Staffers did say that they would begin collecting data and would plan a follow up meeting about the traffic, to be held on another night.
One resident expressed her fear that the park might look “junky” and “not aesthetically pleasing” with the amount of function space planned. Others, however, were quick to say that children were a growing demographic that have been underrepresented in the area.
“We really want to create something that appeals to the masses that provides space for everyone to really enjoy,” said Santana.
On Thursday’s meeting for Maggiore Park, 13 residents showed up to discussion the future of their triangle shaped park.
Officials said that they wanted to tie in subtle details of the essence of the neighboring Chinese Village into the park.
“This plan works around the existing trees,” said Santana, emphasizing the team of designers’ desire to give residents an appropriate design for the space. “There are no plans for removal of any trees. In fact this plan actually adds a lot more trees to the area, so that will be an asset to this space.”
The second concept revealed this week included a wrought iron arbor that would be raised three feet above the ground and provide a structure for a flowering vine to grow; a multi-aged playground area; bike rack, chilled water fountain, and retaining 18 inch perimeter wall with a gate. The central focal point would be the raised sitting area, officials said.
Residents’ called the plan for the park “beautiful,” but immediately spoke up about the issue of the park acting as a parking lot for the commuters in the surrounding area.
Kephart, the city’s public works director, said that the staff would work to gather data about the issue and plan to reconvene at another meeting with the parking director.
One resident asked if it was mandated that action needed to be taken with the parks. Staffers quickly reassured him that it was not and that it was not their intent to “force something on the neighborhood.”
Others suggested that exercise equipment, pet waste bag stations, additional signage to identify the park, and a smaller playground area.
Staff in attendance urged residents to submit their comments cards after the meeting.
Aggressive schedules have been planned for both parks to begin construction by spring 2015 and be completed by the fall.