Community, city work to revitalize Margaret T. Hance Park

Hance Park’s master plan was never completed due to a lack of funding. But community members and the city of Phoenix have recently been collaborating to help the park live up to its potential. (Cydney McFarland/DD)
The city of Phoenix and community members have been working for the past year on transforming Margaret T. Hance Park from a desolate area to a large, world-class park.

The park, which opened in 1992, is located on Central Avenue north of Portland Street and covers a section of the Interstate 10.

However, the master plan created in 1989 was never completed due to a lack of funding, according to the Hance Park Steering Committee Final Report.

The Margaret T. Hance Park Master Plan Steering Committee was created in 2011 to recommend a design plan to the Parks and Recreation Board, said Sarah Porter, chair of the committee.

“There’s a sense that the park hasn’t amounted to what it could be in a big way,” Porter said. “It’s also a moment in time when we need to help the park be what it could be. … It connects the arts district with the downtown, the grassroots art community, ASU Downtown. Here we have this fabulous 32-acre park that could be a really important focal point.”

The steering committee spent a little more than six months on this project. It ended with them recommending that the city of Phoenix put in a request for qualification that would solicit a design team to offer a new, conceptual plan for Hance Park.

Other efforts have been made to make Hance Park a friendlier area. Police enforcement and extra security have toned down negative activity in the park, generally known as a place for the homeless to gather. More festivals and events are being held at the park as well.

The park’s beginning

A design firm, Howard Needles Tammen & Bergendoff, created the original master plan in 1989, according to the Hance Park Steering Committee Final Report.

The report said the park then had “two and a half acres of colored pavers, 240,000 cubic yards of soil, 4,000 plants, 80 trees, 14 miles of electrical conduit, 110 light poles and 324 parking spaces.”

In reality, the park never reached that desired potential. The plaza’s water features were turned off because of a drought and dying trees. The original master plan also called for a carousel, amphitheater, grandstand, parking garage and shaded arcade, but these were not funded and thus not created.

The Margaret T. Hance Park Master Plan Steering Committee was created after community members took more interest in the park, the report said.

The idea for this steering committee was to create a strategic plan for the park and present it to the parks board. During the 14-month process, they assessed the park structure and worked with community members.

Porter said the original plan had what another committee member, Louise Roman, called a “big idea,” which was to have a Ferris wheel in the park. But this did not happen for lack of funding, and now there is no unifying attraction to pull people into the park, Porter said. She said this lack of a big idea also may be a reason why the park languished over the next 20 years as the south side became more desolate.

“The big idea doesn’t have to be a Ferris wheel,” Porter said. “It could be some other thing, but it needs to be this magnet that draws people in.”

ASU’s Landscape Infrastructure Studio architecture students also were invited to develop concepts that were presented at a committee meeting. They called it the (En)Hance Park Master Plan Project Description; however, none of the designs were chosen as a final decision.

Margaret Dietrich, co-founder of the Midtown Museum District Neighborhood Association, moved to the midtown area 11 years ago, but she said she didn’t know Hance Park existed until three years ago.

“It’s over the I-10 expressway and thousands of people drive through it and don’t realize there’s a park over it. I was like that,” Dietrich said. “You have no idea how many people don’t know there’s a park there.”

More police efforts

The steering committee held 14 public meetings in which they, community members and neighbors discussed future possibilities for the park.

The only controversial issue was the idea of a dog park between Third and Fifth avenues on the west side, Porter said. However, the city of Phoenix did approve a permanent park in August.

Besides that, Porter said everyone agreed on the same concepts like improving safety and making Hance Park better and more useful.

T.J. Penkoff, a recreation coordinator for the city of Phoenix, said an overnight security guard now patrols around Hance Park, Heritage Square and Civic Space Park. The city has a budget of $50,000 for one year to pay the guard.

The Mountain View Precinct Police Department, Parks and Recreation Department, Burton Barr Central Library security and Human Services also have worked together to address the large population of transients on a case-by-case basis.

“It’s a shift in philosophy: dealing with individuals as individuals,” Mountain View Commander Glen Gardner said. “We deal with human services for some of them or the criminal justice system if that better suits the circumstance.”

Phoenix Parks Foreman Michael O’Donnell said before the program, there was more gang activity, graffiti and defecation, and at least 20-40 people slept under the bridge. Now he sees more joggers and people walking their dogs in the morning as well as families at the playground.

“We have a lot of citizens now. They are happy and coming into the parks, and they feel more comfortable bringing their children there,” O’Donnell said.

The police and park staff work with the 10 library guards to access the library’s 47 cameras, 14 of which are outside. The PTZ (pan-tilt-zoom) cameras record video and audio 24/7. With the access to the cameras, library guards have been able to notify police of suspicious activity.

Human Services caseworker Jessica Miley goes to an office in Hance Park every Tuesday from 8 a.m. to noon where people are encouraged to meet with her. She does a basic assessment to determine how to help them.

Miley said she’s helped more than 20 people get proper housing since coming to Hance Park.

Dietrich said Hance Park has become a more pleasant place since the police have stepped in. Joan Kelchner, former president of the Roosevelt Action Association, agrees and said Stuart’s grasp and understanding of helping those who are mentally ill and those who are serious criminals has been beneficial for the area.

More festivals at the park

More events have been held at Hance Park, according to city of Phoenix Recreation Coordinator Cathleen Russo.

“I’ve been here for three and a half years and usually (in) summer, I’m able to kick back, catch up and get ready for the next season,” Russo said. “I have been so busy, you cannot imagine.”

There were five events in fall 2011 and this year there were 13. Spring events also increased from 10 in 2011 to 14 this year.

Russo said she attributes the increase of events on the economy, increased interest in the park and the light rail.

The St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Faire event has been held at Hance Park since 1998, said Mary Moriarty, vice president of the St. Patrick’s Day Committee. The only change has been switching from the east side of the park to the west side in 2005.

Moriarty said it is ideal to have the event at Hance Park with the Irish Cultural Center so close. Plus, Moriarty said, it has been a positive experience overall working with the city of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department staff.

“They are very accommodating to events,” Moriarty said. “You will not work with nicer people.”

The future of Hance

The steering committee created a framework for a proposal to select a design team to come up with a conceptual design for Hance Park, Porter said.

“We need to have top design talent we can get to work with community to put in elements we’ve determined,” Porter said.

Tracee Crockett, acting deputy director of the city of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department, and others wrote the draft of the request. Crockett said the document will be released online before the end of the year, but there is not a set date.

A couple of the aspects for the request will be the minimum of qualifications the design team needs and the type of work they would do, Crockett said. After a certain period of time, a review board will look over applications and pick a number of firms to come to Phoenix for an interview. That panel will then choose a team to develop a conceptual master plan for Hance Park.

Crockett said the chosen team will cooperate with the community and city to preserve the work they have already done.

Kelchner, also vice president of the Hance Park Conservancy Board, said she hopes the firm realizes changes in the park do not have to be extravagant.

“I personally don’t want to use any term like ‘world class.’ It’s a cliche phrase that’s empty,” Kelchner said. “Instead of a separate concept that’s theirs, I want them to build upon the best of what we have so far and what we’ve identified to be about.”

The team will also work with the Arizona Department of Transportation because of the I-10 underneath the park. Crockett said the design team will have to make sure their concept adheres to ADOT rules.

Tim Wolfe, an ADOT district engineer, said the future design team will have to clear everything with him. Because Hance Park is over the tunnel, they have to be careful with the load and structures of anything from new planters to an amphitheater. Wolfe said he could not name a specific weight limit because the weight varies throughout the deck.

Wolfe said the biggest problem right now is water leaking through the decks and affecting the joints holding together the 19 separate bridges. The water also runs down walls where ventilation shafts are to pump in the fresh air.

ADOT workers will have to create a new membrane to prevent the water from leaking. They will have to dig out the five feet of dirt between the top of the tunnel and the park in order to put it in.

While there is not an exact cost yet, Wolfe said it will be around $1 million to $2 million. Construction is planned to start at some point in 2013, and Wolfe said it would be best for nothing physical to happen to the park until after the repairs.

“We don’t want the city to make any major modifications of the park or we’ll have to possibly tear up something that was recently installed,” Wolfe said.

Porter said there aren’t any numbers yet for how much it will cost to implement the conceptual design, but that it will probably be in the $100,000 range. Crockett said the park will be redeveloped as money becomes available depending on city funding or other means.

Porter said the park could be an engine for the economy, arts and community stewardship because of its place in Phoenix.

“Hance Park, if it’s properly redeveloped, is going to be a thing that multiplies all of those places that will make Phoenix a more interesting and better place to live,” Porter said. “That’s why I think it’s so critical that we make a significant investment in Hance Park.”

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