City councilors consider options for Ralston Park upgrades

Consultants presented City Council members with an improvement plan for Ralston Park featuring the removal of the gas station and a redesign of the park that includes a bandstand, a bridge over the canal and a “splash pad.”

The plan redesigns the park to unify it, closing off Maple Street’s intersection with Park Street to incorporate the park space north of Maple Street into the main park.

“When we did our Community Vision and our strategic action plan, we continuously heard about the condition of Ralston Park,” said City Manager Gary Marks told the council at the Wednesday evening, May 8, meeting.

“We had a lot of folks, both during that process and since, who have come to the council to say, ‘I don’t feel safe going to Ralston Park. There are various issues and things going on there, and we have problems with sight lines. The old building that’s there has been a place that has fostered different types of activities that have not been conducive to a safe environment, and the police have had to intervene in many cases.

“It’s our central park. It’s a park that’s loved by many. We have lots of great community events there.

“It’s something that we want to foster and move forward in a way that we can be proud of, that will continue to be responsive to the needs of the community both now and as the community continues to grow and change in the future.”

To that end, the city hired Stangeland and Associates of Eugene to work with an ad hoc committee of citizens to look at the park and find ways to improve the park. The committee met four times, taking input from anyone who showed up.

The result was an improvement plan for the park. Presenting it was Brad Stangeland and Alex Misar of the firm.

The plan suggests recommendations, Stangeland said. “It doesn’t say that we’re here to say that we’re going to implement this exact plan tomorrow. We look at it as a master plan, as a road map, as a guide.”

If the city chooses to install a bridge or keep the gazebo, it helps connect them, he said. Currently, the park is parcels of things they’re trying to bring together.

The goal was to improve safety, provide more activities and to revitalize the park for all members of the community, Misar said.

The consultants looked at how the park is used, often with celebrations, a music series and a rose garden tended by the local Garden Club. It has a unique and rich history.

Improvements over the years has created a blend of contrasting and under-utilized spaces, Misar said. It consists of five different spaces with different materials and uses. About half of it is under-utilized or not used at all.

The south part of the park is not used at all, he said. The park lacks a strong connection to the neighborhoods, especially to the west, and the park has no heart or centralized area for people to congregate.

Structures create visual barriers that allow people to remain out of view of the public for nefarious activities, especially around the gas station, he said.

The master plan unifies the park through a holistic design with common materials and thematic elements, Misar said. It eliminates blind spots by removing buildings, like the gas station, to open up the view. It provides new elements to facilitate activities that serve all members of the community and strengthens connections to its surroundings. It also increases safety through lighting.

Among design elements is a “splash pad,” a “playing fountain,” for children. In the plan, it’s located in the southeast corner. The plan shows a memorial plaza in the southwest corner, where the old gas station is currently located. The plan moves the rose garden to two beds between the bandstand and memorial plaza, with additional space potentially available around the gazebo doubling garden space in the park.

Past the plaza is a bandstand, with a lawn area for spectators. A bridge crosses the canal in the middle of the park.

While pathways connect to the existing gazebo and to the park space across Maple Street to the northwest. Along the canal are several places designed to overlook the canal. Paths are lighted for walking at night.

Mayor Paul Aziz said Councilor Jason Bolen, who was absent at the meeting, wanted to ensure there was a contingency to work around the rose garden if the roses cannot be moved. Aziz said he agreed with Bolen.

During public comments, Lynne Neuman, president-elect of the Garden Club, which has been caring for the roses for 19 years, asked the council to leave the roses where they are.

She said that transplanting many of the roses could kill them.

The rose garden has been there since 1983, Neuman said. It fell into disrepair until the city manager asked the Garden Club to take it over.

Since then, the Garden Club has added more roses, some that are not available to the public, along with stepping stones to allow visitors to walk the garden, and a bench. She requested that the city return the bushes, stones and bench to the Garden Club if it chooses to move the rose garden.

That would require redirecting the paths, Stangeland said. He also noted that the plan is still just on paper.

This is a master plan, Marks said, and as the city phases the project, there will be many more discussions with groups like the Garden Club.

Linda Zeidrich told the council the concept is heavy on pavement and light on trees.

Removing too many trees may actually encourage unsavory people, while driving away the “right” ones, she said. People enjoy the shade and shelter the trees provide, and they’ll leave if it’s not there. She suggested planting additional trees.

Stangeland said the plan tries to keep as many trees as it can while removing unhealthy trees.

Marks said he agreed with Ziedrich: “I am certainly open to making opportunities to increase the number of trees there. Trees make a place hospitable.”

This is just a master plan, Marks said. “It’s a starting point. From that starting point, we talk with people like Linda and others, and we figure out exactly what each phase is going to look like – to make sure the park is what we want it to be.”

The process will likely take years, Marks said. The city is starting to put money aside in 2019-20, noting that there are many opportunities for grant funding.

The master plan will return for discussion at the council’s June 12 meeting.