Monday, September 30, 2013

Giant Rubber Ducks & Riverfront Planning Workshop Synopis

Example of the  giant rubber duck in Thames River London, as  a
 tourist attraction that is "outside of the box" , an example for a whimsical
 possibility for Middletown 's riverfront
given by Project for Public Spaces
New York City based firm Project for Public Spaces (PPS) was hired by the City of Middletown for $68,000 to hold 3 public workshops and complete a report of schematic design ideas for Middletown's Riverfront. PPS is a NYC based  non profit architecture and urban planning firm specializing in programming of public spaces. The City currently owns 8 acres of land on the riverfront, including the land which the current sewage treatment plant is located which is scheduled to be closed over the next decade. Over 100 enthusiastic citizen participants attended the two  workshop style sessions.

PPS came in late August to present a preliminary over view of their services to the Riverfront Development Committee, the preliminary powerpoint was a repeat of this with more in depth detailed case studies of other riverfronts around the world. At that first meeting, citizen and former councilman Earl Roberts asked about hydrologists and engineers being hired to deal with the flooding at Harbor Park and suggest remedies. Roberts inquired about the issues surrounding the River being tidal and dredging. Mayor Drew's Riverfront Task Force Committee informed the crowd that PPS's role was more idealistic and preliminary to get the ball rolling and no engineers would be involved at this time.

From an example of annual flooding to some degree or another,  posted via public youtube channel by Vishal Desai, is a video shot in 2011  when there was major flooding of Harbor Park. 



The committee allowed for only limited questions to Project for Public Spaces at this time regarding timing of the next workshops. The issue of river hydrology was not revisited at the subsequent meetings. Also not included in PPS scope would be speaking with the Department of Transportation to deal with the Route 9 On/off ramp at Exit / On ramp 17 or lights on the highway.  
At that meeting, PPS gave an overview of what it called the "Power of Ten" which was repeated at this presentation. Meaning, have 10 attractions for a particular site. Planner Architect Megan Walker, Wesleyan University Alumni, also went over PPS's design mantra of "Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper" as a preliminary kick off point to start to revitalize an area. PPS suggests planning festivals, temporary installations, seasonal art, or other event at a location before more investments are made to 1.) attach people and 2.) see how viable the site is as far as interest.


The week prior to the Riverfront workshop, which was not mentioned,  a Bass Tournament sponsored by the Bass Federation Eastern Division Championship took place at Harbor Park. According to the Courant, over 90 participants entered with more spectators in attendance. The tournament lasted 3 days. Annually, Harbor Park is host to the Head of the Connecticut Regatta, which draws thousands. The Regatta was brought up at the workshop, and PPS reps say they wished to have more events that draw a similar number of people. This year there were new events on the waterfront such as the Caribbean Carnival event and the Youth Gospel Explosion by Shiloh Baptist Church. In 2010, the city used $100,000 in grant money to install floating docks near the moorings for public canoe launch. The Lady Katherine, docked at the park, does annual Fall Foliage tours discounted to senior citizens. 

Much of last weeks two workshops by PPS were about the "Lighter Faster Cheaper" technique but not all.The brainstorming session began with MAT buses hired by the City to take citizen participants (over 100 in attendance both days) to sites part of the riverfront area. Light refreshments and baked food was provided. Small groups visited the Omo Manufacturing property, Peterson Oil, River Road and the former Jackson Corrugated factory, Harbor Park, DeKoven Drive entry to Harbor Park, and the tunnel under the highway leading to the riverfront. Some of the mentioned sites, such as the Omo property need remediation. Private property along the Riverfront and property owned by the state was not visited, but taken into consideration for suggested programming. At the site, groups of 10 were lead by a group leader who walked the participants though an exercise called the "Place Game" - in which they recorded the sights, sounds, and thoughts about the current conditions of the site via a questionnaire. This was then to be collected by Project for Public Spaces to make their final report.

After, groups moved back to City hall, and at round tables discussed suggested things that could be added to enhance the specific location. In PPS powerpoint they shared case studies of France & London, Laguna Beach California, and Buffalo New York as examples with revitalized water fronts. Laguna Beach boasts a elevated board walk and meandering trail system along the shore. Buffalo New York took at advantage of the "Lighter Faster Cheaper" technique and added a temporary event where the municipality placed brightly colored Adirondack chairs along in the park along the Hudson to attach activity. The case study of the Thames River in London showed a giant rubber duck that was temporarily placed in the river as a tourist attraction; this duck has been transported all over the world. PPS also showed images of near by Providence RI which has Waterfire as a  regularly occurring event on its riverfront. Other ideas presented by Project for Public Spaces in their powerpoint of case studies and then echoed by Middletown citizens as things they would like copied for their riverfront  were giant chess sets, beach chairs, winter festivals, "splash" fountains & water slides for children and sand brought in for temporary beaches. A few citizens also mentioned an ice skating rink with hot chocolate stand. PPS stressed whimsy as a way of attracting people to a waterfront.

During the group session, each group that represented a specific site gave a list of ideas that they would like to see on their site with feasibility not to be considered as an inhibition. Board of Education member Ed McKeon spoke for his group suggesting a temporary a beer garden at Harbor Park on behalf of his group. Council candidate and former mayor Seb Giuliano suggested a small scale band shell like the one at West Point to be placed by the furthest most point of Harbor Park. Riverfront Task Force Committee chair Councilman Gerald Daly echoed the desire for a trolley using the current Worchester Providence owned tracks that run parallel to the highway and DeKoven Drive for a scenic tourist excursion. City Energy Consultant John Hall expressed his desire for the river to be a spot where non profits could take children to learn. 

Councilman and Riverfront Task force member Joe Bibisi suggested a desire on behalf of citizens for a public boat launch where 10 to 20 ft boats could be launched via boat trailer. He reminded the group of the large turning and parking area needed for such a launch and asked that it be included in plans. Citizen Kevin Kelly, a retired Connecticut Valley Hospital  employee brought to light the challenges of placing pedestrian and tourist activities so close to the Rushford Treatment Center and CVH grounds as a potential conflict of uses regarding for example patient privacy and tourist marketability. Kelly implored  the group to take those facilities into consideration. Kelly used Brown Stone Exploration Park in Portland CT as a near by example of the reuse of a site with water as it's feature, PPS took note of this and said they would consider a visit Brownstone. Citizen William Wilson suggested more seating and of different varieties be looked at as an addition to Harbor Park.



. Mayor Dan Drew spoke of  his desire to light the Arrigoni Bridge with LED lights, according to him, a potential cost of at minimum $750,000 as a tourist attraction and revenue generator.


Click to enlarge the map of the 7 sites explored at the workshop
Another common sentiment among the speakers were the desire for yoga, art, and food trucks. Laney Banks, Riverfront Committee member and group leader, said "I want the riverfront to be the poster child for ecological learning for the state."  This group session allowed for a free flow of thoughts and non judgmental thinking to be expressed as far as types of activities citizens in attendance wanted to see.



Ed Dypa, citizen and local senior citizen advocate (member of the Senior Center Building Committee) expressed his concern that the parking was not being considered by the planners or groups. Dypa stated that " It is nice to get people to the river, but once there where do they park? There is limited parking already. For those with ambulatory issues such as some seniors, parking at Melilli Plaza and walking thru the tunnel is not a realistic solution."

A representative from PPS stated that there would not be parking at the riverfront, that that was reserved for activities and culture, however, other locations would be considered as a possibility. Off the table were ideas of demolishing or relocating Wesleyan's boat house,or relocation of Route 9. The DOT does plan to do a study about lengthening or altering the Route 17 on ramp. . Middletown holds the record for most deadliest stretch of road at the Route 17 on ramp to Route 9. The traffic lights on Route 9 north bound, originally advocated for by local Main Street business owners as a way to get people to shop on Main Street, are also named to the state's most dangerous stretches of roadway. 


Via  Kurumi's website : "I've lived with what the highway projects did to downtown New Britain. If you took out the traffic lights and put up Jersey barriers across the exits, you'd solve the Route 9 problem - and you could say goodbye to Middletown."
Vincent Amato, long-time business owner and civic leader in Middletown, about the need to maintain access to businesses during the upgrade to Route 9
The DOT has no plans to alter these lights. Read about the history of Route 9 in Middletown here.http://www.kurumi.com/roads/ct/ct9.html.   Tragically,   another life was taken  yesterday at Exit 16 where there are stop lights on Route 9. The media is reporting a motorcyclist collided with a vehicle stopped in traffic.

Feasibility of changes to the highway configuration, engineering, hydrology in response to the river tides, a possible pedestrian over bridge to the riverfront, and funding sources of any future projects where not discussed at the workshop. 

No time frame was put in place for suggested projects, however, PPS stated a festival could be planned for as early as this spring with a willing local sponsor based on their experience with other riverfront's planning committees.

The  City Planning Department video taped both workshops and will be creating a public access / youtube video so those that could not attend can see the PPS comments and each groups presentations.
The facebook page for Riverfront Middletown: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Riverfront-Middletown-Connecticut/456448574448563


Tell us what you think of the presentation & plans for the riverfront in the comments below!

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