By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
It could have been a simple matter, this business of replacing a popular but time-battered playground on the west side of Denver's City Park. But the itch to do more, to radically transform what a playground might be and what it could mean, seems to have been racing through the blood of Parks and Rec staffers even before the mayoral election of 2011. And once Michael B. Hancock took office, the idea took off, evolving into something grand and infuriating.
"Denver Parks and Recreation (DPR) is challenging currently accepted definitions of play," declares a request for design proposals, "and is looking to rethink play as a unique, multifaceted experience in an urban, multi-generational space in Denver's historic City Park.... The new space will be unique and will include community context and advocacy."
An international design competition drew 26 entries, all of them laboring to redefine and reimagine play — a mysterious activity, apparently, that the city's Play Area Master Plan grimly describes as "child's work," an endeavor that "is flexible and changeable according to one's mood, the time of day or the season of the year." The children's work area that this bold new thing would replace, a modest clump of deteriorating wooden structures known as the Dustin Redd playground, occupies less than an acre of the park, but the designers were encouraged to think much, much bigger, as befits a regional attraction intended to draw up to a thousand visitors a day.
The winning design, submitted by Chicago-based PORT Architecture+Urbanism and Denver's Indie Architecture, is a $5 million reimagining called City Loop. It features a half-mile ring of brightly colored plastic tubing circumscribing thirteen acres of the park, flanked by a synthetic running/biking track and numerous spur trails; within the loop are clustered play areas offering the obligatory swings and slides, as well as talking tubes, climbing orbs and nets, a rain room, a manned activities kiosk, and a stage with terraced seating for concerts and special events.
A close examination of the garish illustrations accompanying the City Loop proposal suggests that this vibrant new "regional civic space" will offer something for just about everyone. Food trucks for families on the go. A soft track for jogging geezers. Hammocks for summer slackers and an ice rink for Winter Olympics hopefuls. Comfort stations for the uncomfortable. All it lacks is what the initial project description insisted it would have: community context and advocacy.
Although DPR staff have been making public presentations about City Loop since the spring of 2012, many residents who live close to the park have only learned of the project in the past few weeks. That has prompted heated neighborhood meetings, the creation of a website called Stop City Loop — and considerable backpedaling and re-reimagining on the part of park officials.
Two weeks ago, DPR manager Lauri Dannemiller and several staff members fielded questions about City Loop from nearly a hundred neighbors at a meeting at the Ford Warren Library — a much larger turnout than most previous public gatherings about the project. Many of the audience members were visibly agitated and upset; not one, it seems, had braved subzero temperatures in order to compliment Dannemiller and her team on their excellent work.
Dannemiller began by explaining that the project is "only at about 60 percent design phase" and still subject to revision. The city has raised a fifth of the funds needed and is talking to nonprofit foundations about contributions. No big corporate donors have been sought, and "we have not anticipated corporate advertising or naming on the site."
But the park's neighbors have a host of concerns about City Loop, starting with the traffic, noise and parking problems that might result. They're alarmed at the prospect of sacrificing such a huge chunk of green space in an overstressed park that's already lost open areas to the ever-expanding footprints of the Denver Zoo and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science; some, in fact, suspect that "reimagining play" is simply a pretext for adding yet another gimmick to boost visitor levels at both institutions. They wonder why the city isn't spending money on badly needed park maintenance projects instead of a new feature with yet more maintenance demands. And they don't see why the Dustin Redd playground — named for a five-year-old boy who drowned in the park's Ferril Lake in 1996, and built on a shoestring with the aid of neighborhood volunteers — couldn't be replaced for a hell of a lot less money.
"I worked five days to build Dustin Redd," Phil Hainline, one of the creators of the Stop City Loop website, told Dannemiller. By his estimate, a reputable contractor could repair the playground for around $50,000. "This is a huge facility, with no concept of the amount of money required to maintain it. It's closer to Water World than a kids' playground."
Dannemiller and her aides tried to address each barrage in turn. Yes, the loop would encircle a thirteen-acre area, including a large meadow, but the play structures and "built environment" occupy only three acres. Although City Loop documents flatly state that there's no need for additional parking, the city is now considering adding more along existing roadways. The concerts will be "community-scale gatherings," not huge, fee-based events. As for traffic, maintenance and security questions, one planner hedged that the project is probably closer to 40 percent design phase than 60 percent; a lot still has to be worked out.
Fairly one sided piece that does not take into account the people around the park that were and still are rooting for this development. There was consultation and community involvement and multiple opportunities for feedback. If you researched neighborhood sites like 'Nextdoor' there was multiple discussions and the rational consensus was that in general it was positive. Seriously disappointed on westword running with the vocal minority on this piece.
"But while certain features of the design might still be negotiable... City Loop isn't going away."
All I could definitively surmise is in that sentence. Having read the article with the video posted today, I am glad to hear DPR has halted fundraising efforts until the vote(s) in the spring to either move forward or move on to something else.
What every person needs to recognize is how unnecessary CityLoop is and how many other ideas require our city's efforts, like a Boulder-Denver bike path, or connecting Denver and the mountains via bus or some of the ideas for trains.
Also, it doesn't hurt to note that for little more than the approximate amount spent on the design contest that procured CityLoop, we could have already completed renovations on Dustin Redd. One of the reasons the city may be so keen to act like they can't stop the project is because they already blew so much money?
The City seems to be taking a step back, from my mom:
People should still pay close attention to City Park to ensure the needed maintenance and repairs on existing amenities takes place (and personally I'd love to see the interior of the park become more coherent with better signage) and to see an appropriate redesign emerge - one that lets kids play and not "work" like the Loop concept!
Next up, what's happening in Hentzell Park demands more attention:
There was no community involvement from the beginning of the project, nor was there apparently
any intention to do so. DPR selected 3 designs and then allows the community to believe that they were part of the selection process. This is a contradiction of their own policy, According to the City’s Master Plan:
The community in each neighborhood should determine its own priorities for play areas. Denver neighborhood groups should be given the tools to do their own local assessments… [page 132, Denver Play Area Master Plan, June 2008]
This video was made by Denver Parks and
Recs and was once on their website. In it a Park Planner walks would be
architects of the proposed "re-imagine play" and explains there will be
no community input until later in the selection process
Go to the web site...StopCityLoop.org. There is much information on why this is such a bad idea.
First and foremost, there is no funding or budget for maintainence and staffing.
cityparkmom, if I lived in City Park West like you claim to, I would be very worried about the parking situation. They are going to park on your neighborhood streets.
This is the ugliest park design I have ever seen. I just looked at the presentation on YouTube for it and I can't believe that this thing has gotten approved. That blue tube running around the whole thing is heinous and would just attract graffiti. It looks like someone came up with it after watching Tron too many times on ecstasy. Two full time people would have to be hired just to paint over the graffiti daily. I like the idea of a run/ bike loop connecting playgrounds and picnic areas but this is just awful. This would be a maintenance nightmare and Denver Parks can't keep up with what they have already.
This certainly validates my experience! The new Denver is all about being an economically vibrant, world class city, and quality of life be damned. What difference does it make if you sit in your car for half an hour waiting for a marathon to pass? After all, there was a small notice about the road closures in this morning's paper. Why should you care if the facility your group rents from the neighborhood association is completely inaccessible due to the whatever event, parade, or race the city has scheduled to boost its image? And they've never even once acknowledged receipt of a single one of my complaints. At least we do have recourse: we're leaving.
If anything, expand the zoo so our animals can have actual habitats. The poor cheetah just paces back and forth w/no room to run in his small, square area....or get rid of the golf course.
I live in City Park West, knew about this for over a year and even voted for the City Loop design. They have not been trying to keep this a secret and have been really good about communicating if you have been involved. There were multiple different types of designs that you could have voted for and this is the one that won. It really sadness me that the people who were not involved earlier are now delaying what will happen at the park. If you do not get involved in your community, others will choose for you.
Typical response by progressives -- give the people what the ruling elites deem to be the best mode of play and recreation as the people obviously don't know what they enjoy, or should enjoy. Besides, it's only public tax dollars being used for this extravaganza, not their personal money where they would suffer if and when if flops.
So what if it inconveniences the neighborhoods surrounding this glorious monument to political hubris, the the local rubes can't see what is good for them, tough. The neighboring rubes should just pay their taxes and leave the thinking and planning to the self anointed elite governing class.
well if you are going to destroy it with kids..... how about adding a dog park in the middle there........pretty sure more people spend time at the park with their dogs then their kids who are glued to the video games.
Hancock and his goons (DCC) just want your money and your compliance. They absolutely don't want your input. If you vote on it they will do everything they can to undermine that vote. This administration has been the worst in recent memory. I want the DCC and Hancock replaced. They all suck the corporate willy and do not care for the regular people.
Great reporting! Please: that simple, little wooden playground in the lovely section of pure park is the only place I take my grandkids and nephew to play when they visit. Turning it into a destination, a mall-like glob of over-designed plastic and commercialism-- ruins it, ruins it, ruins it. Will not vote for Hancock if this goes forward. Will protest. Will be heartbroken.
Thank you so much for covering this issue in depth and detail, Westword. What fine piece of local journalism, Mr. Prendergast!
I suspect that the horrid blight known as City Loop is going to happen despite a rather vocal citizen uprising in response: Hancock has shown time and time again a complete willingness to shovel corporate cash into his pockets at the least opportunity. He consistently says in plain language that the will of the voters doesn't mean a thing to him on a variety of issues.
I voted for the guy and I despise him.
@difbtrash Horse manure: there was nearly zero citizen input. And the backlash has been loud enough to put a halt to the project, thank God. Did you even bother to read the article?
Yeah, WW is crushed by your "disappointment" that City Park won't be transformed into a McDonaldland Playground, as are all the rest of us. Crushed by your corporate disapproval.
@bbgdcoDon't miss today's follow-up on Hentzell Park:
ha! yes. and i'm sure you're also with him as he sells denver neighborhoods out to developers who build cheap, unimaginative shacks only rich kid's parent can afford. right on, Greggy.
Shocking to see a city employee acting as a shill for unneeded government spending. When someone makes their living leeching off the hardworking taxpayers, I doubt the destruction of a beloved city park matters much to them.
Who are you getting your kickback from? The design company? Overcharging for materials.
The taxpayers have their eye on you now Mr. Looker....
It's shocking to see another city employee acting as a shill for unneeded government spending.
When one makes their living sucking off the hardworking taxpayers, I doubt the destruction of beloved city park makes much of a difference.
Who are you getting your kick back from? The construction company? The material company.
The taxpayers have their eye on you now Mr. Looker......
@HancockHadHookers "I voted for the guy and I despise him. " my guess is that's a big fucking lie. Sorry, you don't use that user name AND be someone who voted for the guy in the first place.
Vocal citizen uprising? If 4 people in a group of 100 scream at the top of their lungs while the others stay silent, do those 4 people speak for the whole 100?
@Boston @HancockHadHookers Your razor-sharp analysis leaves a bit to be desired, genius: I voted for Hancock because the other option was even worse. You keep on thinking you're such a fucking genius, though. It comes down to whatever gets you through the night, I guess....and judging people over the internet seems to do it for you.
As for your other paragraph, it is pretty obvious you didn't bother to even read the story. No shock.