Monday, June 08, 2009

Adventure Park, Town Center, or Mini-golf Considered for Glebe/Randolph Corner

County planners release their ideas for the intersection and hire Brailsford and Dunlavey to analyze the financials and marketability of the space.

This post has been edited twice for clarification since its original post yesterday. Sorry for the confusion and inconvenience. --ST

After about a year of analysis, county planners want to see if an adventure park, a town center, or a mini-golf course would work best in the empty space at the corner of N. Glebe Road and N. Randolph Street, a triangle of grass next to the Ballston Commons Mall parking garage.

Last week the county engaged the services of Brailsford and Dunlavey, a facilities planning firm, to analyze which of the three, if any, would hit the county’s goals to activate the space with an aesthetically pleasing design. At the same time, the programming held there would have to be revenue neutral.

County planner Scott McPartlin said B&D, the firm that helped plan Washington Nationals’ baseball park, will be looking at the financial feasibility and marketability of all three ideas.

“There are good examples of all three [ideas] nationwide,” Mr. McPartlin said.

“I’m hoping the results [from B&D] will be good,” he said. But if not, “we go back to the drawing board.”

This site, adjacent to the Ballston Commons Mall parking lot may become a town square, an adventure park or a mini-golf course. (File photo; click to enlarge the image.)

It would not be the first time back.

In October 2007, the county posted a request for interest in a mini-golf course at the site, and in the spring and summer of 2008, the Buckingham Community Civic Association pushed back, saying that the idea was being forced on the community without enough community input. County planners have maintained that part of their jobs is to narrow choices to those likely to succeed in the space, and that there will be opportunities for input.

In 2008, the county, deciding internally to look closer at the matter, put together an interdepartmental team from the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources; Arlington Economic Development; and Community Planning to reinvestigate the use of the space.

Buckingham Community Civic Association President Pat Hope, a leader in the push back a year ago, said that he still wants the county to ask the basic question: “What does the community want?” before they push forward with any idea. A charette regarding the best use of the space, he said, should include the Bluemont, Buckingham, Ballston and Ashton Heights neighborhoods as well as commissions and committees that would have a stake in the project.

Mr. Hope said he takes issue with the idea that the park must be “activated.”

“I haven’t gotten past the original discussion of ‘what do you want here?’” he said. The question to the community would ask whether they want an active or passive park or something else.

“I’m happy that [the offerings are] more than mini-golf, but I still want a discussion,” he said.

He warned the planners that the “worst thing that could happen” is 15 people show up at the county board meeting saying that they don’t like any idea put forward.

“We ought to be the ones to drive this discussion,” he said.

[Other civic leaders could not be reached before this posting. –ST]

The current plan is that B&D will finish their analysis by the end of the summer, and public discussions over the different ideas would occur in the fall, Mr. McPartlin said.

The town center might be a space to hold performances, civic meetings, shows or ceremonies, Mr. McPartlin said. In April, he said the idea that the county had decided only on performance space was a “rumor.” Today, he said that the county is keeping any possible uses of a town center open, even ice skating, though the Kettler Capitals Iceplex sits atop the parking garage adjacent to the park space.

“That’s why we hired B&D, to look at the feasibility,” Mr. McPartlin said. “We’re looking at these ideas as examples. We’re not excluding any one [idea].”

People climb through the massive "MonstroCity" in St. Louis. (Click to enlarge the image; City Musuem of St. Louis. )

The adventure park might include rock climbing and huge climbing structures such as that found at the City Museum of St. Louis or Port Discovery in Baltimore. This might also include a skate boarding park or a wave pool where people could surf or kayak, Mr. McPartlin said.

The "Earthscapes" mini-golf course in Minnesota. Each hole offers a lesson about the effect of water on the earth's surface. (Click to enlarge the image; Science Museum of Minnesota. )

He cited the historic and educational possibilities of mini-golf as a reason to recommend the idea. The “Earthscapes” 9-hole mini-golf course at the Science Museum of Minnesota allows players to see the role of water in shaping the surface of the earth.

“This 30,000 square-foot course gives the words ‘water hazard’ a whole new meaning!” their web site says. In Philadelphia, players putt through the liberty bell and into Independence Hall.

A partnership with a private company most likely will be required in such a way that the company can make a profit while servicing the needs of Arlingtonians. Part of the decision-making will come down to how the financing is structured with a partner, Mr. McPartlin said.



Related stories and sites…
  • Mini-golf Plans Progressing, September 2007
  • Mini-golf It Is, June 2008
  • Earthscapes mini-golf
  • City Museum of St. Louis

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  • Comments:
    This is a typical example of the "Arlingon Way". Some person (often low on the totem pole) on the County staff gets it into his or her head that something should be done. In this, case, the staff person has decided that a piece of public property needs to be "activated", rather than devoted to passive uses, such as an area filled with trees and flowers.

    The staff person then proceeds to hype his or her idea, often expending considerable amounts of public funds to achieve this. If anyone or any organization disagrees with the idea, the staff person ignores the disagreement or gives it lip service only.

    After expending all of the available public funds, the staff person announces his or her conclusion. The staff person then requests community input (such as from neighborhood and civic organizations and County Board advisory commissions). The staff again proceeds to disregard or give lip service to any dissenting views.

    The staff person then submits his or her recommendation to the County Manager, stating that he or she has requested and received community input. The staff person provides reasons that any written objections are unreasonable, impractical and/or unsupported by the larger community.

    The County Manager then endorses the staff person's idea and submits it with a glowing recommendation for approval to the County Board. The Manager's report may state that there are no issues, regardless of any objections.

    Unless a large number of people or several major advisory commissions object to the proposal and suggest a specific alternative, County Board members give only lip service to the public comments.

    People commenting at the County Board meeting seldom, if ever, all recommend the same specific alternative. In the absence of such a specific and unified alternative, the County Board then votes (sometimes with one or two objections) to approve the County Manager's recommendation. That's the Arlington Way.
     

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