Residents in Ottawa got a peek into a possible future for the city’s Jackson Street on Tuesday night.
Two of them, in fact.
Attendees to Tuesday night’s town meeting gave their opinions regarding two conceptual designs prepared by Wight and Company regarding an overhaul of the 100 block of West Jackson Street and its transformation into a festival plaza. The project is being pursued with CL Real Estate and Development, which is in the midst of a multimillion dollar renovation of the adjacent Woolworth and Carson buildings.
Judy Fenza spends a good deal of time in the area, living at the corner of Columbus and Jackson streets, and said the concepts were “wonderful.”
“In the summer, people are using the benches and coming, and I think if we had this plaza you would just see more and more people utilizing that area and the park,” Fenza said to a crowd of roughly 50 people. “It’d be a beautiful addition to the city."
Others were less enthused and raised concerns with the availability of parking for larger crowds and the placement of the Lincoln-Douglas debate mural on Jackson Street’s south side, which is set to be removed during the Carson and Woolworth building remodels.
All eyes on the mural for ‘Option A’
The first option was crafted based on feedback from an earlier meeting in October and saw the site being home to a winding pathway, meant to evoke a flowing river, complete with water features such as water jets and small gathering tables for activities and socializing. There was also a design of a marketplace for shoppers and those looking to escape the sun.
Additionally, the concept included a picture of the Lincoln-Douglas debate mural facing east toward Columbus Street. The mural could also be the site of movies during the evenings as a special event in the plaza.
Some attendees were dismayed to see the mural facing Columbus instead of facing north toward traffic heading southbound on La Salle Street, where they expect it gets more attention. Others said the mural’s placement facing north often brings curious travelers deeper into Ottawa and its history, and the lack of it may lead others to pass by.
The consensus from many was that it shouldn’t be moved at all, but Nathan Watson, of CL Enterprises, explained that it doesn’t fit into their plans for the buildings, which include opening up the north side where the mural is located for retail and restaurants.
“Prior to the mural, it was a 152-foot-long blank, brick wall. It is not attractive. It will never be attractive. It is dead. We are going to open it up and make it lively. Open up into the sidewalk and onto the plaza where people can gather, eat outside and where we can have economic activity,” Watson said.
“We regret that the mural has to be relocated but there’s no way that we can do our development with the mural there,” he added. “The mural is made to be removed. It was not meant to be permanent. It is on a temporary material which will not last forever in these elements. … It’s in our way anyway but it’s not historic. The building behind it is historic.”
Others agreed the development could offer more for Ottawa than the mural currently does.
“The mural is a big issue and I understand that and we need to find a place for it because it’s an asset to the community, but it’s not going to bring in the dollars like a business and like what they’re talking with the Woolworth and Carson buildings and enhancing Jackson Street,” said Ottawa resident Mike Dougherty after the event. “It’d be an asset to the community.”
Dougherty also suggested the side of Roxy Cinemas as a potential relocation site. Mayor Bob Eschbach said he has not discussed the issue with Roxy Cinemas but does plan to speak with Turk Furniture as another possible site.
One individual said a position on Turk Furniture is not as highly visible as the current location.
“The whole point of this is to get people out into the plaza to explore. It’s like Millennium Park in Chicago. It’s not designed for the cars going by but it’s for the people in the park,” Eschbach said. “You’re absolutely right, fewer people will see it, but we want you to get out of your cars.”
Parking concerns and ‘Option B’
The second concept shown depicted Washington Square spilling out further onto Jackson Street with a small stage set up to house a musician during the summer’s music in the park events or, as Eschbach suggested, one musician performing music over the lunch hour.
Water features such as jets also were included as well as the possibility for an ice skating rink in the winter next to the city’s annual Chris Kringle Market huts.
A clock tower also was positioned on the northeast side of La Salle and Jackson streets where pictures of Lincoln and Douglas could be displayed on a screen with the potential for an audio recording of the debate to be included.
The historical elements all went over well with those in attendance and the clock tower could notify others of the park’s history, similar to the mural, which was absent on this design.
There were some concerns from others that the design is similar to what’s planned on the waterfront, but Eschbach said this location would hold about 200 people while the riverfront would hold thousands.
CL Enterprises co-owner Peter Limberger agreed and said it would attract different guests.
“It’s complementary. The riverfront is a much larger scale. This is the intimate small market square or plaza and more for the locals actually,” Limberger said after the meeting. “This is where you sit and have an ice cream or a coffee or have your lunch break and sit there during the day. The riverfront is something for the big weekends.”
Other comments were raised regarding the absence of parking. An earlier proposal referenced the east half of Jackson remaining open for parking, but that wasn’t the case with the new concepts. Parking still remained south of Jackson Street on the east side.
A parking study was conducted on downtown Ottawa stating the city had a “parking perception” issue, but many in attendance felt there would not be enough parking for the plaza.
Conversation to continue
Wight and Company will return to the area with other concepts built from feedback at the event, specifically noting a continued look into adding historical elements to the design and incorporating the mural’s location or a reinterpretation of the mural, such as on the screens of a clock tower.
Eschbach said the concepts will be available at City Hall, 301 W. Madison St., and soon on the city’s website. He encouraged everyone to view them and share their thoughts.