Hance Park panel, ASU students collaborate on park’s renewal

The Margaret T. Hance Park Master Plan Steering Committe met with ASU landscape and architecture students to inspire the students to brainstorm ideas for the park's transformation. (Evie Carpenter/DD)

The Margaret T. Hance Park Master Plan Steering Committee met with ASU landscape and architecture students Wednesday to discuss a remastering plan that will transform the park space into a cultural and recreational centerpiece of downtown Phoenix.

The 13-member steering board has met 12 to 14 times to discuss the future of the park and says their mission is “to develop an achievable master plan … that fosters and activates community connectivity … making Hance Park a signature destination.”

A tour of the park preceded the meeting so that the students could formulate ideas for change and get a feel for the area.

Graduate student Valerie Johnson said it is “exciting there is a large park space this close to downtown Phoenix.” Landscape and architecture student Kristi Johnson said there is room for improvement, including utilizing the grass and providing more shade and water throughout the park.

The committee and the students will work together for the next few months and propose a redesigning plan to the Parks and Recreation board in December.

Hance Park was built in 1990 to connect Interstate 10 and provide a diverse recreational area for the neighboring communities. Initial plans fell through when funds ran out, leaving Hance Park disconnected. The new plan is to take elements from the first master plan and incorporate new, innovative ideas from the design students, said Cate Russo, recreation coordinator at Hance Park.

Two other park committees meet monthly to discuss the future of the park’s 32.5 acres and its impact on the surrounding community. The Hance Park Issues Committee focuses on ongoing issues such as crime and homelessness. The Hance/Deck Park Conservancy Committee plans on establishing a nonprofit organization for issues such as security construction and maintenance.

Committee member and landscape architect Tom Byrne said existing constraints on the park include a lack of identity, but he said the committee has suggested visioning opportunities such as a bike shop, a water splash pad, WiFi access and an urban trail. The committee hopes to incorporate current programming opportunities into the park such as First Fridays and Movies in the Park, Byrne said. The idea is to get people “off the street and into the park,” he said.

A community amphitheater and a pedestrian/bicycle overpass or underpass were other potential ideas weighed by the committee.

The priorities of the committee are to preserve the historical aspects of the park while making it a signature arts and cultural part of the downtown area, the committee said.

Hance Park houses the Irish Cultural Center, the Japanese Friendship Garden and the Jewish Heritage Center, each associated with one of Phoenix’s 10 sister cities. The committee hopes to see further cultural additions to the park, possibly including attractions relating to the seven other sister cities, said Karen Williams, a member of the committee.

Hance Park houses the Irish Cultural Center and the Japanese Friendship Garden, according to the City of Phoenix Parks website, and is adjacent to the Jewish Heritage Center. The three locations each work with one of Phoenix’s sister cities. The committee hopes to see further cultural additions to the park, possibly including attractions relating to the seven other sister cities, said Karen Williams, a member of the committee.

“We have all the elements for making a successful park,” Williams added.

Contact the reporter at cnparson@asu.edu

Correction: August 28, 2011

An earlier version of this article said the Jewish Heritage Center is housed by Hance Park. The Jewish Heritage Center is adjacent to the park, but is not a part of it.


  1. Anything done to this park will fail unless the committee & students can answer the simple question of “Why is the park not utilized?” and then find solutions that directly answer that question. I worry that there will be a lot of time, money, and energy spent brainstorming things that will dress up the park instead of focusing on its fundamentals.

  2. To me there are three major problems with Hance park. Those being accessibility, visibility, and the third being community involvement.

    It’s nearly impossible to find the entrances to Hance off of central. Unless you know exactly where they are you are going to be insanely aggrevated trying to get to the park. I’d love to see a large open and visible entrance to the park. Perhaps something like a much smaller park on the same level as the street so that you have an idea what’s there.

    Visibility is another huge problem. For the first 6 months that I lived in the downtown area I had no idea what and where Hance Park was. You can’t see any of it. In my opinion there needs to be something tall and interesting visible from central. I think the idea of an amphitheater is a perfect one to fulfill that. Plus it would work well with getting the community involved.

    The last is community involvement. Starting with incorporating it into first fridays. The above mentioned amphitheater is a good start. On any first friday you can find a large selection of live music. Allow those musicians to play and artists to display at the park. Also have a large yearly event in the spring at the park. Beer festival? Food Festival? Something. Create a draw for people to discover the park.

  3. I lived within two blocks of this part for almost four years. While I’d love to say that I frequented it daily and that it was often packed, the only time I saw groups of more than 2-3 people, not counting planned events that were fenced off, was when the homeless would watch movies on a screen on the southeast side.

    No one playing flag football, not many people playing catch and zero accessibility for anyone who doesn’t know exactly where it is.

    You can dress the damn thing up all you want, but until the questions that PhxDowntowner asked are answered, the park will continue to be no more than a homeless hang out and a playground for the elementary school next to the library.

  4. I live two blocks from the park … I have for years. Anything is better than nothing! Good news! Go kids Go! Glad to have ASU downtown!

    As for the critics. The park is under utilized for one reason. A reason that no one ever wants to address, mention or even admit. DOWNTOWN PHOENIX HAS A HUGE FUCKING HOMELESS PROBLEM. Period. End of Story.

    For years this park has been our own homeless version of Woodstock (sans the music but including tents). I personally can’t stand kids, but I’ll bet that those that have ’em don’t want them playing “kick the can” around listless addicts and untreated mental patients.

    The overly ideological loudmouths would never even think to blame the parks underutilization on the homeless, that would just be awful. So we’ll just continue to “look for answers” that are blatantly obvious to everyone in the area. Granted this is a national issue, but let’s just stop kidding ourselves why our downtown parks are “underutilized”.

    Our downtown parks are being VERY WELL utilized!!!! They are just being utilized by people wondering around our city (and on our mass transit)with untreated addictions and mental issues.

  5. I see at least one inherent problem with the reporting here: Hance Park houses the Irish Cultural Center, the Japanese Friendship Garden and the Jewish Heritage Center, each associated with one of Phoenix’s 10 sister cities.

    The Jewish Heritage Center IS NOT associated with one of Phoenix’s 10 sister cities NOR is it in the park. It is north of the park (with a parking lot on the south side of Culver between that can be used for the park and/or Burton Barr Library). So if one thinks that the JHC is part of the park, why is the library not considered part of it too? It belongs to the city as do the Japanese Friendship Garden & the Irish Cultural Center. JHC is a private 501(c)3 entity.

    There is no reason to go to the park except when there are events there. And often it is difficult for attendees to find parking. (I use public transportation so that is not an issue). With an amphitheater, we could have outdoor concerts (remember the bandshell at Encanto???)during much of the year.

    But in all this, who are suppose to be the “customers/users” of this park? The surrounding area, or something greater? Based on its size, it is not a neighborhood park. Based on its lack of amenities, it is merely an open green space. And based on what is beneath the park (the I-10 tunnel) only so much weight & vegetation can be installed. All things to consider in a new master plan. And having worked on the latest master plan for Coronado Park, I know that you can not please everyone..So don’t try.

  6. I attended many of the Hance Park Conservancy and visioning meetings when I was back in Phoenix and frankly, its a joke. The people running the group have great intentions but don’t have even the vaguest understanding of why the park is a failure, nor how to turn it into a success.

    Lets look at one of the quotes from this piece:
    “Byrne said….the idea is to get people “off the street and into the park,” he said.”

    Really? So you want to take one of the most successful things Phoenix has, First Fridays, and rip it out of the streets and put it into the park? Why? To turn it from an awesome, urban, street fair into a typical Carnival in a park? If you could grow First Fridays so it would eventually spill over into the park, fine, but don’t try to move it.

    The Hance Conservancy has also bandied about ideas like moving the Farmers Market to Hance Park—again, why? Their ideas are so small and mostly seem to be about cannibalizing other strong PHX institutions to prop up Hance Park.

    Look at the old Channel 12 building, if Hance Park is ever going to succeed it MUST be torn down. Its an anti-urban fortress that walls the Park off from the LRT station @ Roosevelt St. Instead a new group (an AIDS clinic I believe) is moving in and will keep that useless building occupied for years.

    The Conservancy also has no understanding of the basics of successful Park design or what makes a public space have a lot of use. They don’t realize the outer park—that is to say, the barren moonscape around the park–is as much of , if not more of a problem than the park itself. There’s not nearly enough residential density surrounding the park to support it. There’s also no hotels or major businesses abutting the park, nor is there a holistic plan to attract them–so why would anyone ever be near that park?

    Hance Park has dead grass all winter, but green grass all summer– why? First off a park in such a key location should have green grass year round. If budget constraints make this impossible though, why not go for a winter grass? Do you want to play frisbee or flag football when its 115 in July or 75 in December?

    The Park also has a major problem because the bed it lays in was built improperly and isn’t deep enough; this means large shade trees can never really be added. What they need to do is slightly expand the park’s boundaries onto normal land, where they’d at least be able to plant large trees (Cottonwoods, Jacarandas, Arizona Ash, etc) to ring the park.

    Regarding the other posters comments about the homeless situation there: Yes, its an issue. But the only reason the homeless are there is because its an abandoned space that no one else would ever dare use, so they know they will be left alone.

    The Conservancy doesn’t have the funding or the vision to make Hance what it needs to be. Sadly they’re going to put a band- aid on a severed limb and not do much good at the rate things are going. I’d rather see them do nothing, so that 10 years from now when we have to fix their half baked ideas we don’t have to convince the Community that this time its a good plan.

    The Conservancy needs to at the VERY least bring in consulting from the “Project for Public Spaces,” every project they’ve done has been incredible. But the Conservancy says its too pricey. If they can’t even afford that or are unwilling to find funding for it, why should we believe they can do anything to help the park?

    Sadly the Conservancy & Steering Committee has an arrogant attitude that seems to push off anyone under the age of 40, or anyone who doesn’t actually own land abutting the park. Who cares if they actually want to make Phoenix great or have valid ideas.

  7. Ah darn, I can’t edit my last comment, but I meant to end with these three quotations. These are things the City of Phoenix ,the Hance Steering Committee & Conservancy needs to keep in mind, but, they never really do:

    “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably will themselves not be realized.”
    ~ Daniel Burnham (Father of Landscape Architecture)

    “Therefore, when we build our cities, let us think that we build for forever.”
    ~ John Ruskin (Victorian era British art & social critic)

    “If they say it can’t be done, well, it doesn’t always work out that way.”
    ~Yogi Berra (baseball player)

    Sadly too many in PHX are allergic to dreaming big.

  8. I skimmed, but what about the dog park? I sat through incredibly tedious city meetings, and in the end, the consensus was to put a dog park in Hance Park. I completely oppose moving First Friday, the Farmer’s Market, or any other successful downtown venture to Hance. The RoRow association has done better with a vacant lot than the city has done w/Hance Park.

    I actually use the park a lot. I like the fact that it’s difficult for cars to find their way to the park. I ride my bike through there all the time. I am a member of the Japanese Garden.

    In my mind, a park should provide respite, shade, a green space, pools and fountains, and variety. I look forward to hearing the plans, and hope for an opportunity to have input, as a downtown resident.

  9. consensus was definitely *not* to put a dog park in Hance Park. The majority of that committee supported a different site, and Hance was only added to the committee’s official recommendation in order to bring on board the few extra votes needed to achieve the ridiculous 75% threshold that Mayor Gordon imposed on the committee.

  10. On a dog park – a member of the Steering Committee stated that the City supports a dog park in Hance Park and also one closer to the central business district.

    The President of Phoenix Community Alliance, the owner of Lexington Hotel, and the Chairwoman of the Hance Park Conservancy Steering Committee all stressed the vital importance of having 24/7 ‘eyes’ on the Park by building residences ringing the Park.

  11. @Will Novak: There’s some overlap, but the Hance Park Conservancy is not the same group as the Hance Park Masterplan Steering Committee. The latter group is a subcommittee of the Phoenix Parks Board; the former is an informal neighborhood group. The Steering Commitee has been seeking public inputthey would no doubt welcome your insights.

    On the dog park, it’s well known that there was strong interest among members of the downtown dog park committee in using “the future ASU law school parcel” for a dog park. Was there a sense from the downtown dog park committee regarding dedicating Hance Park’s western panhandle (between 3rd & 5th Aves, just east of Kenilworth School) to a dog park?

  12. Reid Butler here. I am one of the Founders of the Hance Deck Park Conservancy. I agree with the comments from Will Novak that the Conservancy needs to commit to exceptional ideas and real execution of those ideas. I will do my part to make that happen. I hope that Mr. Novak (and others from all generations young and old that want to make the Park a success) will re-engage or now get engaged. For my generation, our years to be able to use the Park with its updated Master Plan will be limited. For younger generations, this will be their Park.

  13. HMMM- i’ve sat at a couple hood meetings on this. my main interest was to see what the status of the shade structures was. the original ones i designed 20 years ago for the hardscape area. i still have the drawings. I also designed all the fountains and hardscape at the ‘urban plaza’. hey i didnt name it. and the design vocabulary was already established by higher ups in the firm. last time i walked thru, all the fountains were off, and in poor condition. suggest turn most into planters. go for the cheap fix! but still need some water there for cooling by a fountain. i like the shallow ones by the bridge, they make a big evap cooler. have to extend the season somehow. there are other options for shade now too, tensile, etc. the original were all steel, I was told they came in at $250k. nowadays that’s a drop in the bucket to ADOT. not sure where most of the funding came from, then. I10 is fed. Fed/ADOT/etc. remember the S&L thing hit the econ during the construction of this. But just looking at the pic and from memory there do seem to be a lot of shade trees at the perimeter. may not be continuous. also the Irish and Japanese centers dont connect very well to the park. dont know why, would have assumed they would? residential is essential, but that’s a problem all over d-town Phx. do remember there was a lot of thought to the open areas v contained or shaded areas. think open areas are tough in Phx because of the heat. and maintenance is always an issue. i grew up in Phx/Tempe, so do remember the Encanto band shell. it was pretty small. ever been to the one at Papago Park? similar. anything larger and you will have some issues. look at Tempe Beach Park, bands there play often enough, and with the breeze you can hear them over a mile away. not always good. so when I think about this stuff, i try to use all my senses, plus whatever else is left. btw: there was an theater planned also, not built, also a larger fountain, like an theater. Teh homeless is a social problem mostly, I agree. and a policing problem, one bike cop riding around could control the situation. have them take turns, not as posh as in a cruiser, but you get to meet your neighbors too! btw: amphitheater is enclosed all around, like stadium. ‘theater’ has the open end, stage-facing seating arrangement. but amphitheater is commonly used. I was corrected once by Michael Graves, he’s good at that historical vocabulary. I also happen to be working on a theater right now in s az. btw2: Tom B. and I worked together back then. Hi Byrnie! sorry I missed the walkabout. too hot, and it’s a 4 hr drive from BZB. And last, i’m just trying to get Tempe to fix up the Mary Miss fountain on 3rd street, a whole lot smaller.

  14. oops, did i forget to mention that the entrance to the Public Library is not off the park? we knew about the plans for it. and the park side would have been my choice to enter. but that’s another story.

  15. @All: Sorry I worded it confusingly before, I am aware that the Conservancy is a separate group from the Cities group. I was writing that last post in a bit of a hurry and it was poorly written- sorry!

    @Reid: I’ve actually met you a few times and I think you’re awesome and appreciate all you do for Downtown. My concern is everything I’ve seen and heard from both the Conservancy and the City are WAY too small potatoes to solve the problems at Hance Park.

    I think it would be better in the long run for Hance to just be left alone than for a plan thats not nearly enough to happen. It will just make it harder for the next generation to truly make it into a great park 20 years henceforth.

    Hance Park is going to take HUGE amounts of money to make it work and what it needs to be. If people aren’t talking about a project on the level of Bostons Rose Kennedy Greenway, Chicago’s Millenium Park or at least at the level of Houston’s Discovery Green, then it seems like a waste. I’d rather wait for quality than be in a rush to do something blah.

    If big time funding is impossible right now, just get the grass green all year round and plant more trees and flowers and call it a day. Like the Project for Public Spaces always says “Start with the petunias.”

  16. Will/All: I just spent some time this morning on the websites for Houston’s Discovery Green (www.discoverygreen.com) and the Project for Public Spaces (www.pps.org). Wow! Will–you have re-opened my eyes. Thank you. Time for some homework. Reid.

  17. Reid, I discovered (oh pun!) Discovery Green last summer when I went on a trip through the Midwest & Texas, its AWESOME. I also recommend looking into “City Garden” in St Louis, its an excellent new park as well. However I don’t think the Project for Public Spaces had anything to do with City Garden, but its sort of done in their style. Detroit’s new Campus Martius Park looks awesome too, but I haven’t seen it in person. And of course Boston’s Rose Kennedy Greenway and Chicago’s Millennium Park are fantastic.

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  19. Concerning Calypso’s comment on using the western panhandle of MTH park for the off-leash dog park, please visit http://www.closeshawneebarkparknow.org to learn more about what happens to a neighborhood when a dog park is installed in an inapropriate location. We’re you’re neighbors in Chandler AZ. and would hate to see the same thing happen in your area.

  20. The original vision statement for Hance Park (circa 1989) defined uses for areas of the park. The east and central areas were designated as community areas. The west panhandle was designated as a neighborhood park.
    The residents in that area were provided that neighborhood park as mitigation for the busy freeway access and egress (5th and 3rd Aves) that cut through their neighborhood as well as the ADOT emergency power facility situated in the middle of that neighborhood park.
    Residents of Roosevelt neighborhood rely on the City of Phoenix and the Parks Board to honor the committment of the original Hance Park vision statement as it makes plans to improve the park.
    A dog park is a community use facitlity and is a fine idea for downtown Phoenix if it is located in close proximity to the greatest number of potential users and sited conistent with the orignial Hance Park vision statement.

  21. Marc Architechture & Will Novak — thank you for yourgreat input into this park issue. I am one of “those” neighbors who doesn’t think a dog park in a residential area (25ft to my property) is a reasonable idea. I do hope that when the parks & rec/CoP put out their RFQ that the two of you bid it because you are right — you need to know what is wrong with something to fix it & it needs to be fixed right. A very few of the participants in any of the 3 committees involved in Hance reno at the moment live near HP and have no idea what really goes on! Why not involve the actual residents & neighbors & do it right. I have heard many great ideas put forth, but no real cohesiveness. For most of the last 20 yrs the majority of children using the park are mine. Clearly the community area of HP needs to be rethought/redone! Let’s do it right!!

  22. I am currently doing my thesis (6th year arch at ASU) on the devastating effects of the Papago Freeway’s imposition to the Roosevelt and F.Q. Story Districts.

    Will already mentioned this but what the park needs is obvious. Adjacent commercial or dense residential development. That whole corridor from Roosevelt to McDowell along Central is pretty bleak. What retail, food, or entertainment do we have in there??? You’ve got Blue Fin, Cheuvront, Old Spaghetti Factory, some crappy bar at the Best Western, Portland’s, and now we have The Nash (but it’s a bit far from the park).

    I have been living in the Roosevelt District for six years now and have been expecting to see more development in what I call “The Dead Zone” (Area just north of the Business Core and around the I-10). While the Business Core, ASU downtown and Bio Med areas are slowly growing, little is happening in the Downtown Gateway, Roosevelt, Townsend Park or Evans Churchill Dead Zones. In fact, there seems to be more dirt or d.g. lots emerging than ever before. (Roosevelt Point is an exception but it supports the Bio Med campus/ASU downtown)

    It was nice to see Portland Place go up but there are so many empty lots right around the park that are just begging to be built on. We’ve got 75′, 90′, 200′ and 250′ height restrictions all around the park, except at the northwest edge (30′), where historic homes lie anyway. Additionally, you could hypothetically build to 40′ on the very south edge of Culver if the weight is not too much for the deck…

    I say build mixed-use to the sky (commercial/residential) all around the park with max density townhome communities (218 du/acre). Couple this with a subsequent similar revitalization of the Cultural/Arts Corridor along Central and the Downtown Gateway/Hance Park becomes a destination and reunification band for the Roosevelt District. The park is such an asset to the possibilities Phoenix might have in store.

    Funding for renovation of the park will be rolled into this development, but it really doesn’t need that much anyway. It’s fine except for: that grid of stabilized d.g., concrete curb and trees is about the least imaginative thing I have ever seen in a nice park. Since it is a low point, make it a shallow recirculating retention/reflective pool that continues to the east under the bridge. When we have no precip, a float valve fills it from a main line. It would be a beautiful thing to look out over while walking over the bridge or by lightrail. And the evap cooling effect would help add comfort to the park.

    Sandblast some of the raised planters to the east and replace a few plants/trees. Open the Japanese Friendship Garden up to the park (at least views in, if not pathways). Provide pedestrian linkages north and south through the park at more points to reconnect a severed Roosevelt District… As for shade: Once the buildings are in, you’ll naturally be more shaded from the sun. But I’m sure someone will want to throw in some expensive fancy shade sails anyway.

    What are the economics of this, you ask? $90,000 is the median home income of the block just north of this and even right in the Dead Zone, you’ve got around 45-50k… The people that already live/work in this area can sustain and make this development a success. Additionally, you have a ton of lawyers working in the Business Core that would probably rather just quit commuting to Scottsdale if downtown had any entertainment/food to offer or a nice parkside community to live in.

    I really don’t know why developers haven’t seen and moved on this opportunity yet. Perhaps as I move forward in my journey through academics and practice, I will be able to find the right group of individuals to help make this vision a reality.