Community advocate Sean Sweat, who has led the dog park effort since its inception, said the park would make downtown more inviting to residents.
“If someone wants to go to a dog park now, they have to get in their car and drive. That’s not the point of living downtown; the point of living downtown is you shouldn’t have to drive,” Sweat said.
Sweat has promoted the idea of a dog park since the site of the Ramada Inn was slated to become a parking lot outside Taylor Place in August 2010.
Sweat opposed the lot, claiming downtown already had excess parking. He suggested a dog park would be a better use for the space, considering the location and number of residents nearby.
The Phoenix Board of Adjustment rejected this proposal last November.
Sweat then focused efforts another ASU parking lot on McKinley Street, an unsuccessful bid as ASU refused to give up the space.Sweat is now focusing his energy on a section of First Street north of Roosevelt Street. The location would benefit a majority of downtown residents, Sweat said. Along with easy access for residents, the location would draw people into Margaret T. Hance Park and attract pedestrians to nearby businesses.
“It will create pedestrian corridors. People will see businesses and businesses will get more use and suddenly you have a pedestrian-(oriented) downtown, which is my goal,” Sweat said.
The current proposal has the park split into two spaces with separate areas for small dogs and larger dogs. The sections would be approximately 16,000 square feet and 40 feet wide. Traffic would be directed southbound and parking could be added along Portland Street.
Not everyone supports this location, however. Cynthia Peters, Parks and Preserve administrator, claims the First Street location would be too difficult.
“There may be some issues with that. It’s too small, we’d have to bring in water and electricity, the ability of the staff to maintain it, if we can even grow grass on the site. It’s all kinds of things,” Peters said.
Peters said funding would have to come from the Parks and Recreation department and other fundraising methods.
Sweat is exploring alternate ways to make the park profitable. He currently estimates the park has the potential to raise $62,000 per year through memberships and sponsorships.
Other locations have been considered. Last year former Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon created the Ad Hoc Downtown Dog Park Citizen’s Committee, which had 76 members, including Sweat. The committee made recommendations for the park’s location, including Margaret T. Hance Park. Sweat claimed that the committee was a political railroading and was designed to be ineffective. The committee required a 75-percent consensus on any recommendation.
Robert McClellan, a former Ad Hoc Committee member who attended the Sunday meeting, agreed. Owner of an English Mastiff named Buckingham; McClellan says he wants to see more green spaces downtown and believes a dog park is the way to achieve this.
Although he supports the idea of a dog park, McClellan does have concerns about traffic on the First Street location.
The location is also receiving resistance from Michael Twenty-three, director of the Firehouse Gallery art space on First Street. Twenty-three created a Facebook page Sunday night in opposition, and the page had over 50 fans on Monday.
Twenty-three said the park would not be good for his business and that downtown needs to be more accessible to artists.
“Our goal is to create and build a nexus for the creative people downtown,” he said.
Hance Park is also an option. Peters said the park location would be more manageable as it is already an established park.
Sweat, however, disagrees.
“It [Hance Park] serves no one downtown. It’s in a bad location, there are not many people living around it and it’s on a bad side of the highway,” he said.
Sweat believes a better solution would be to connect the dog park to Hance Park through First Street.
“It is something vitally needed for Hance Park because it makes a connection between the active portion of downtown and … Hance Park,” he said.
Sweat has met with several members from the city, including Karen Williams, deputy director for the Parks and Recreation Department.
Williams said the question is, “How can we make downtown a place where people want to live, play and work?”
Williams knows that it is a challenge, but believes it is necessary to look at opportunities for green spaces for dogs.
The First Street option has not been formally presented yet, but Williams says there will be an opportunity when the Margaret T. Hance Park Master Plan Steering Committee meets in February.
Despite the difficulties, Sweat is determined to see his vision of a downtown dog park realized.
“My mission is to make downtown a place that people can live easily without a car — a place people will move specifically because of how vibrant and diverse life can be here without a car,” Sweat said.
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