Strawberry Park taking shape as festival nears

With two weeks left until the 108th Strawberry Festival, activity is heating up in a small pocket of downtown Lebanon.

Strawberry Plaza, formerly Mural Park, is taking shape as the foundation is completed and key features of the park are installed.

The City of Lebanon will hold a grand opening for the new Strawberry Plaza following the Strawberry Festival’s junior parade Friday, June 2.

The redesigned “pocket park” sits between Conversion Brewing and Hollywood Studios, and features a stage, strawberry shaped fountain, lighted 3D Cascade Mountains backdrop, and local art installations.

Strawberry Plaza will host its guests with synthetic turf and cemented seating areas, as well as a patio for Conversion Brewing patrons. A kiosk will inform visitors about the history of the park itself.

The City has photographs of murals painted in the former Mural Park over the last few decades, city manager Gary Marks explained. The kiosk will display the photographs, and might include community history at a later time.

“We wanted to give honor to the murals and the artists who have created works in this space in the past,” Marks said. “We didn’t want that to be lost.”

Another feature of the park Marks made sure wasn’t lost to history is the totem pole originally erected in 1993. The totem was carved by Milton Dodge of Sweet Home and Tony “White Raven” Stanovich, and painted by Patty Richards, but was rotted from exposure these past 23 years.

Marks sanded the rot away and repainted the totem pole, and will unveil it during the grand opening.

The strawberry-shaped water fountain for the park, designed by Chris Kopp, was installed in the plaza this week.

“We’re quite excited; it is the marquee piece of the new park, and I suspect it will become an iconic symbol for the community,” Marks said of the fountain.

An arts commission was established last year in order to promote art in public places within city limits, according to the city’s website. Literary, musical and visual arts fall under their charge. As part of their task, the arts commission will pursue placement of art in Strawberry Plaza.

The park’s design by Stangeland & Associates was approved by the city July 2015, and the city began tearing down the east wall the following year.

City staff determined revitalization of the park would cost about $250,000. To reduce the costs, the city contracted itself out to do most of the work.

“We’re acting as our own general contractor, with the idea we’ll save some money doing that,” Marks said.

Briese Custom Concrete, J. Fair General Contractor, South Fork Industrial, 1st String Building, and City and Suburban Electric also played a part in making Strawberry Plaza a reality.

Residents have expressed concern from misinformation that funding for the park is coming out of system development charges, Marks added. People who are living here in Lebanon are not paying for the new park.

With Boulder Falls Inn now established, the city’s hotel tax revenue has quadrupled, he said. By state law, that money has to be spent on projects and initiatives that promote tourism in Lebanon, including Strawberry Plaza.

“It’s actually coming from our new hotel tax, so the people who are visiting us are paying for Strawberry Plaza,” he said.