MONTPELIER — The first steps in the design of a new riverside park in the heart of the Capital City were discussed at a meeting of the Conservation Commission on Thursday.
Referred to as Confluence Park, it would be situated where the North Branch and Winooski rivers join in the southeastern corner of the Taylor Street transit center and housing complex project.
Thursday’s meeting was the first of two meetings for community input and discussions to define a blueprint for the project. Milone & MacBroom, a Waterbury civil engineering and landscape architecture firm, is assisting with the design. It is expected a report and conceptual design will be sent to the City Council in January for consideration and approval and to seek funding and grants. Stakeholders in the project include the Vermont River Conservancy which seeks to protect water resources and recreational amenities.
James Brady, chairman of the Conservation Commission, said he was encouraged by the turnout at the meeting, the input from the community and the potential for the project.
“We have consistently heard that people want to be more involved with the rivers in our town and I think that this could potentially lead to more and more projects,” Brady said.
Brady noted that there has long-been a proposal for a riverside park in the area dating back to the late 1990s.
“It was pretty cool to see that this area has been pegged (for a park), and seems like a great spot,” Brady said. “It’s really great to be a part of the process to see this, hopefully, coming to fruition.”
The project was first proposed in the 1999 Capital District Master Plan as part of a larger-scale riverfront park development that was influenced by earlier city studies — Montpelier Rivers Report and River Visions — dating back to 1995. It was further supported by last year’s Team Bridges’ winning Net Zero design contest, which proposed a mix of residential, retail and commercial development and open space to create a new riverfront district in the city.
Access to the site would be improved by a tandem element of the Taylor Street project — a recreation path parallel to the railway tracks, connecting Taylor Street with Main Street.
“Essentially, the meeting was to give the history of the project, where we are and the next steps,” said Richarda Ericson, development and outreach director for Vermont River Conservancy. “It was also an opportunity to have a representative from the design firm that’s working on the conceptual design. He was able to answer some of the more technical questions about what could be on the site and give an engineering perspective.”
Ericson said there was also input from the public present at the meeting.
“Some of the things that came up were that it would be nice to tie into this park a sense of history and the history of these two rivers at the confluence point but also what confluence could mean as a community gathering place,” Ericson said.
Ericson said participants were also interested in seeing schematics of the proposed Hampton Inn & Suites hotel and 248-space public parking garage on the site of the Capitol Plaza parking lot.
“There were several people that said river access was very important to them, actually getting down to the river,” Ericson said. “There were people who said they go down there currently and how it’s a different world when they’re down there, how you can’t really hear the traffic.”
Ericson said the Vermont River Conservancy is working to identify potential grants for the project.
“We will present the feasibility and conceptual design to the City Council at the end of the year, likely at their first January meeting, and we would like to identify potential next steps,” Ericson said.
Funding for the public debate and research into potential use of the site is funded in part by a $125,000 grant from Canaday Family Charitable Trust, which made its fortune during the war years building military Jeeps. Longtime visitors to the state, family members of the trust are dedicated to improving the lives of children and families and environmental education and conservation in Vermont.