As downtown Dallas breaks ground on its biggest park yet, here’s what you can expect

A deserted strip on the eastern edge of downtown Dallas – now a jumble of trash, weeds, and broken asphalt – is just days away from being transformed into the largest green space in the area and a grand entrance to downtown.

The groundbreaking ceremony for Carpenter Park on Wednesday comes almost exactly nine years after a small group of supporters first gathered to discuss how a downtown plaza that was lost in a massive road project can be saved and rebuilt can be invented.

Based on the legacy of the original Carpenter Plaza and offering both tranquility and recreational fun in the urban core, the 5.6-acre Carpenter Park is expected to open in about 18 months.

“This is a great example of perseverance,” said Amy Meadows, president and CEO of Parks for Downtown Dallas. “It was a very long and arduous process to redesign and rebuild an original park so that citizens can use it.”

Every time Dallas makes significant improvements to its infrastructure, it is a cause for celebration – especially for those of us who remember when the city’s idea of ​​creating open spaces downtown was to create another above-ground parking lot .

In sharp contrast, today’s downtown is becoming a place where residents, workers, and visitors can hop from one end to the other – from park to park.

This depiction by landscape architect Hargreaves Jones shows the lawn of Carpenter Park and looks east toward I-345. As seen on the left side of the rendering, Portal Park Piece is reinstalling the artwork to run east to west. This symbolizes the connection between the city center and its eastern districts.(Hargreaves Jones)

Carpenter Park, which is adjacent to I-345 and leading from Live Oak Street to Pacific Avenue, also makes a strong statement to its eastern neighbors. About fifty years after the construction of a freeway created a no man’s land of tangled roads and bridges separating downtown Deep Ellum and East Dallas, the park will begin to close that divide.

“This side of downtown will be very inviting to walk into, especially after what it has looked like for the past few years,” said Meadows. “You will feel very comfortable especially for pedestrians and bikers.”

The original square, inaugurated in 1981, honored longtime Dallas businessman John W. Carpenter, who shaped the future of insurance, utilities, and steel in the state and founded Southland Life Insurance Co.

The new Carpenter Park is located east of the DART East Transfer Station and welcomes visitors with a huge lawn and walking paths, a majestic fountain and a children’s playground. A dog park, basketball court, pavilion and place for food trucks will be created under the elevated lanes of I-345 to the south.

Modern art lovers can once again look at the Robert Irwin sculpture Portal Park Piece (Slice), the thin, weathered steel wall that previously ran north to south through Carpenter Plaza. The piece will be reinstalled in an east-west direction to symbolize the reconnection of downtown with Deep Ellum and East Dallas.

Portal Slice is one of the most valuable works of art in public space in Dallas after the Henry Moore sculpture in front of City Hall, and Irwin promised some surprises when his work was again on public display.

Even before the project on the streets on the east side finally shut down Carpenter Plaza, the space was not a real park, but a pleasant green scene for drivers commuting to and from the city center.

When I was exploring Carpenter’s later footprint, it took a lot of imagination to envision a park in this space. The jumble of separate parcels of land is littered with remains of gutters, concrete walls and chunks of asphalt.

A “No Parking” sign is attached to a random pole in a swampy low gravel patch, reminiscent of the streets that used to run on Cesar Chavez Boulevard before work.

Several living oak groves hang stubbornly on the edge of the property. But many trees are dead or dying, which is why the carpenter’s plan is planting 122 new ones.

During the construction of Carpenter Park, a separate public works project will realign the zigzag chaos of Pearl Street on the western edge. This long reconstruction in one block offers more space for the park and pedestrian-friendly, traffic-calming functions.

The eastern edge of the new Carpenter Park is under I-345 to the south.  In this area, park users will find amenities such as a food truck area, a basketball court and a dog play area.The eastern edge of the new Carpenter Park is under I-345 to the south. In this area, park users will find amenities such as a food truck area, a basketball court and a dog play area.(Juan Figueroa / employee photographer)

As great as the parks in the city center are, it is worth mentioning the municipal miracle behind them: for once, visionary plans that arose from formal planning did not end up on the same city hall shelf, where too many well-intentioned great ideas were gathering dust.

Carpenter is one of four downtown green spaces whose design and construction is overseen by the nonprofit Parks for Downtown Dallas Foundation through its public-private partnership with the city and its parks division.

The first of the four, Pacific Plaza, opened last October. West End Square is slated for completion next March or April. Carpenter opens a year later. After all, Harwood Park, not far from the Dallas Farmers Market, will lay the foundation by early summer 2021.

Upon completion, each park will be owned and operated by the city.

Funding for the four comes from $ 39.4 million already approved in Dallas City bonds and more than $ 56 million in tied private funds.

In addition, Parks for Downtown Dallas has set up $ 1 million in entertainment for Pacific Plaza and is raising $ 25 million from donors for permanent home living to support all of the downtown parks.

This Carpenter Park rendering shows the planned water feature and splash area for children.  The park's completion date is set for the end of the first quarter of 2022.This Carpenter Park rendering shows the planned water feature and splash area for children. The park’s completion date is set for the end of the first quarter of 2022.(Hargreaves Jones)

The chairman of Parks for Downtown Dallas is Robert W. Decherd, who is also the chief executive officer of AH Belo, which owns The Dallas Morning News.

In 2011, Decherd, who has been dealing with planning and design issues in the heart of the city for 40 years, teamed up with John Carpenter III, then city manager Mary Suhm, and park director Paul Dyer to address the plight of the desperate Carpenter Plaza area discuss.

Carpenter and his wife, Cele, donated $ 3 million in 2015 to transform the square originally built in honor of his grandfather into a larger, pedestrian-friendly park. The statue of John W. Carpenter, sculpted by Robert Berks, will return to the green space before it reopens.

“Aside from being so patient, John and Cele have supported the renovation and expansion of Carpenter Plaza in every dimension and always encouraged us to build the best possible park,” said Decherd. “Your financial commitment to the project was the linchpin.”

In order to maintain the course in this park, everyone involved had to make monumental efforts. The nine-year process to get to the groundbreaking on Wednesday not only led to municipal bureaucracies, but also to projects by DART and the Texas Department of Transportation.

At various times, Carpenter Park has been involved in choreographing the future of Interstate 345, as well as additional road alignments and DART plans. But Parks for Downtown Dallas, which is dedicated to implementing the park master plan, just kept on pushing.

The original Carpenter Plaza has been damaged in the past few decades by a massive public works project that improved roads elsewhere, but left Carpenter as a mess of broken asphalt and gravel.The original Carpenter Plaza has been damaged in the past few decades by a massive public works project that improved roads elsewhere, but left Carpenter as a mess of broken asphalt and gravel.(Juan Figueroa / employee photographer)

In addition to the still new Pacific Plaza, the urban core of Dallas already houses Klyde Warren Park, which is operated by the Woodall Rodgers Park Foundation, and two green spaces on the historic back of downtown: Main Street Garden and Belo Garden.

Once the last three green spaces on Parks for Downtown Dallas’ to-do list are completed, the downtown green space will have grown by 23 acres, or about 17 soccer fields, from 2009 to 2022.

That’s a big deal. Trees and the green spaces that make them home make us all happier and healthier. It’s always a good day to celebrate – like the groundbreaking Carpenter Park on Wednesday – the creation of another large oasis in the middle of the urban concrete.

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