Skyline Park Design Threatened by Renovation

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Landslide

Skyline Park Design Threatened by Renovation

Skyline Park Design Threatened by Renovation
Sep 15, 2002
Connie Wanke, ASLA

Upon its dedication over 25 years ago, Skyline Park became a signature landmark for the City of Denver, CO. The park, an emblematic work by visionary landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, immediately grew to be a destination point for local residents, businesses, workers, and visitors to the city.

Continued mismanagement and lack of maintenance by Denver’s Department of Parks and Recreation over an extended period of time, has unfortunately removed the original ambiance of Skyline Park. Chipped concrete, broken planters and lights, grass replaced with wood chips, and non-working fountains has resulted in a lack of park use and security.

In November 1998, the City of Denver passed a bond Issue for improvements to its city parks. Two million dollars was allotted for the repair and restoration of Skyline Park. Unfortunately, the Denver Parks and Recreation Department decided not to look into a restoration/rehabilitation of the park, but to ‘scrape’ the park and use the area for a series of entertainment plazas.

This idea was recommended to Parks and Recreation by the Downtown Denver Business Improvement District and the Downtown Denver Partnership, and motivated by the possibility of additional funding for the project.

A l997 re-design plan was prepared by local landscape architectural firm Design Workshop, Inc. for the park. It recommended the total demolition of all three blocks of Skyline Park, and replacing those blocks with flat areas of grass and basketball courts, and turning the fountains into tot lots and planters. Fortunately this plan was rejected under public protest.

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Skyline Park, Denver, CO - Photo by Charles Birnbaum, 2001

In l999, another programming study and document was completed by Urban Strategies/Greenberg Associates, Toronto, Canada. This plan also recommended Halprin’s original design be discarded, and the park replaced with flat hard surfaced plazas to accommodate events, a large movie screen, and a ticket booth with an underground coffee shop attached to the historic D & F Tower. This plan was also discarded under public protest.

In 2002, the City of Denver and Downtown Denver Partnership completed a Request for Applications (RFA) process and negotiated a contract with Thomas Balsley Associates, New York, New York, for yet a third redesign of Skyline Park. In addition, the City assembled the Skyline Review Committee, which included preservationists, local citizens groups, city departments, and members of the business community to ‘guide’ Mr. Balsley’s team in the final design.

Three plans were presented to the Skyline Review Committee by the firm of Thomas Balsley Associates. The first was a ‘retro-fit’ of Lawrence Halprin’s original park, which incorporated modifications necessary to update the Park to better meet existing community and use conditions. Lawrence Halprin consulted with Mr. Balsley on this plan. The second plan recommended keeping two or three of the original fountains, but nothing else. The third plan recommended demolishing the park and starting over.

After 9 months of study and review of the three conceptual plans, the Skyline Review Committee was unable to reach a consensus over the future of the park. The second alternative was eliminated, but half the committee wants the Park to be totally removed and completely redesigned, while the other half would like the city to retain Lawrence Halprin’s original design integrity.

In September 2002, a public hearing was held and over 250 people came. The hearing was a wonderful display of public participation. Over 60 speakers, including a homeless young man who frequented the park, a professor from the University of Colorado-Denver Architecture School, members of the City Council and Denver Planning Board, members of the preservation community, landscape architects, architects, and local residents, all came to express their views on which direction they would like to see the city take in regards to Skyline Park.

Speaking in favor of preservation/rehabilitation of the park are the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Colorado Historical Society, Colorado Preservation, Inc., the Friends of Skyline Park, Denver Public Schools Shakespeare Festival, as well as numerous local citizens and professionals.

Although divided, the majority of the participants wanted the city to pursue a plan which more closely represents Lawrence Halprin’s original design. No decision was made at the hearing, but the Parks Advisory Board met the following week, and after a lengthy discussion, recommended the project to be sent back to the Skyline Park Review Committee for further refinement.

The two plans contain many areas of ‘common ground’ between committee members. It will be up to the Skyline Review Committee to extend that ‘common ground’ even further and reach a consensus sometime in the beginning of 2003.