Cary delays meeting on downtown park

aspecht@newsobserver.comJanuary 6, 2014 

— The town has postponed a meeting to update the public on plans for a downtown park until Cary leaders agree on the design of a centerpiece fountain.

The Town Council recently added $3 million to its original $2 million budget to build a town square that would act as a park gateway on South Academy Street near the Cary Arts Center.

Cary planned to host a public workshop Jan. 13 to collect feedback on the park and other proposed improvements to Academy Street.

But at a meeting in mid-December, some council members expressed concerns that design plans for a fountain wouldn’t fit in with other proposed elements in the park.

Many of the park features, such as benches and walkways, are set to have earth tones.

The proposed fountain, designed by artist Larry Kirkland, incorporates a lake scene with bright colors.

The fountain is set to stand about 20 feet tall and includes a 6-foot wind vein at the top that’s shaped like a heron.

Kirkland was inspired to include the heron after seeing one of the birds at Koka Booth Amphitheatre, he told council members. The use of bright colors is meant to make the fountain memorable, give it a presence in a large open space and invite activity, he said.

While most council members said they liked Kirkland’s design, some worried it would be considered too bright or too contemporary.

Councilman Don Frantz said the council asked for a more traditional fountain – one that’s concrete and has water flowing down its multiple tiers.

“Not a colorful pole with a gilded heron on top,” Frantz said, according to draft minutes from the meeting.

Others disagreed with Frantz’ suggestion that the fountain needed a complete redesign.

Councilwoman Jennifer Robinson said she liked the heron, the reeds and the water-play concepts. But she said designers may need to make the fountain a more traditional shape and incorporate more subtle colors.

Councilman Jack Smith said postponing the public meeting was a smart move because town leaders need to take their time to weigh how best to spend taxpayer dollars.

“We want to be iconic yet traditional,” Smith said with a laugh and a sigh. “We’re still trying to figure out how to do that.”

He continued: “The uniqueness of (the fountain) makes us want to move more cautiously.”

The park is part of a broad effort by Cary to revitalize its downtown. The town is spending about $6 million to renovate The Cary, a theater and arts venue on Chatham Street.

The entire park project is expected to cost $15 million. The property, which could include seven acres of park space and 12 acres for public and private development, could feature rolling greens, a pond, a parking deck, a new library and commercial development.

Meanwhile, streetscape improvements to South Academy Street and Dry Avenue are expected to cost $8 million. The money was approved by Cary voters as part of a 2012 bond issue.

Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht

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