Lexington is making plans to update Phoenix Park to make it a brighter and more open and inviting downtown space, Commissioner of General Services Sally Hamilton said Tuesday.
The Parks and Recreation department is including $75,000 in its 2014 fiscal year budget request to do "heavy maintenance" on the park at East Main Street and South Limestone, Hamilton told the Urban County Council's General Government Committee.
Hamilton said she was hopeful that individuals and downtown businesses interested in improving the area will contribute to the renovation. In September, Developer Dennis Anderson, who owns the Park Plaza apartment building that opens onto Phoenix Park, announced a $2 million renovation of the 21-story building, including adding 5,000 square feet of street-level retail space.
The city does not have the money to rebuild the park from scratch, said Jeff Fugate, president of the Downtown Development Authority.
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"This is not a big re-do. It is an update," he said.
In other words, if a total renovation of the park were equivalent to a full kitchen makeover, the plan calls for "changing the cabinet knobs," Fugate said.
Before work can start, the budget request must win approval from the full council, and that won't happen before late June.
Phoenix Park, which also is an entryway to the Central Library, has a small green space, a large water feature and monuments to police and firefighters killed in the line of duty, among other things.
The park has become a gathering place for homeless people and others who have no place else to go in the daytime. It is often littered with cigarette butts, trash and food containers.
Hamilton emphasized to the council committee that "this is not ever a project that will displace the homeless."
Phoenix Park has been maintained, but it has not been updated for more than two decades, Fugate said.
"It is a very tired park, unfortunately, in the heart of downtown, where we are looking for more investment and where more and more people come," he said.
Fugate described the park as a dark space that sits below street level, with dying trees, outdated furniture and an electrical system and lighting that don't work well.
Tentative plans call for removing the trees, replacing the lighting, replacing existing furniture with the round tables and chairs similar to what is found in Triangle Park, planting a new kind of ground cover and reducing the height of a large planter that is more than 5 feet tall at one end. The water feature will remain.
"One of the important things to keep in mind is (that) an urban park is not about green space and not about looking pretty," Fugate said. "It is about a public space where people want to be."
Phoenix Park has been an issue of concern for years.
In 2009, city officials spent several months with representatives from the health department, police, the city's social services department, the library and the parks department on the Phoenix Park Homeless Initiative, looking for "a long-term solution, not a quick fix."
Last summer, Mayor Jim Gray named Councilman Steve Kay and businesswoman Debra Hensley to chair a commission to examine homelessness in Lexington. Also, several residents, many of whom live in Park Plaza, formed a group called Clean Up Phoenix Park, with the goal of improving public health and public safety.