MONTPELIER — The Capital City’s popular pocket park has been dismantled and will no longer fill a ghastly gash in the streetscape on Main Street.
The good news is that it will live on in a modified design and grace the front façade of the Montpelier Senior Activity Center on Barre Street.
It marks the end of four years the park has occupied 66 Main Street, filling in the vacant lot where a fire destroyed a building in 2003. The pocket park was designed by Montpelier architect Ward Joyce and built by his architecture students at Vermont Technical College in May 2015.
Last year, the owners of the site, Jeff and Jesse Jacobs, of Overlake Park, LLC, asked the city to come to agreement on a lease of the site to allow the pocket park to remain in place.
But city officials said the asking price of $30,000 annually for five years was too steep. City Manager Bill Fraser noted that the landowners’ request was “well above any reasonable market rate.” The city offered $10,000 ($5,000 from the city and $5,000 from National Life) and, in addition, would pay property taxes, insurance and any other direct costs, Fraser said.
A review by City Assessor Steve Twombly showed that the Jacobs’ request for the 3,052-square-foot lot averaged out to $9.83 per square foot, compared with about $1.50 per square foot for parking lots leased by the city, including a parking lot leased from the Jacobs.
At the time, Jesse Jacobs noted that he allowed free use of the vacant lot while he continued to pay $1,490 annually in property taxes for the site.
On Friday, Jesse Jacobs said he was disappointed that he could not reach agreement with the city and said he was sorry to see the pocket park go. He added that he had “a few ideas” for the vacant lot but did not elaborate.
Joyce noted that the pocket park will be repurposed as a pergola, with vertical posts that support cross-beams and a sturdy open lattice, upon which woody vines can be trained. Pergola comes from the Latin name, pergula, referring to a projecting eave.
“It’s going to be a modified and spruced-up pergola — it’s essentially just going to be the pergola element, the fanned-out rafter, seating and planter elements that used to form the front of the pocket park,” Joyce said.
“The elements of the pocket park that aren’t coming are the picnic tables, the back screen, the chef board, and the green wall and water-catchment system,” Joyce added.
However, the green wall on side of Downtown T’s, adjacent to the vacant lot on Main Street, owned by Kelly Sullivan, would remain, Joyce said.
“She owns the first two feet of the pocket park area, so the green wall is going to be planted again and will come back this year,” Joyce said.
Joyce said funding for the pergola project came National Life and AARP Vermont.
“It will make it possible to not only take apart the old pocket park, but to move, reassemble and refurbish it in the new location, and then to paint it and plant it. So, it’s not an insignificant effort,” Joyce said.
Joyce said work on the reassembly at the senior center would begin immediately after approval from the Design Review Committee, which passed project proposal on Monday.
“Our goal is to have it be installed before the two conferences come to the city in June,” Joyce said. He was referring to the Downtown and Historic Preservation Conference on June 5 and the New England Foundation for the Arts, which will hold its biannual Creative Communities Exchange on June 6 and 7.
Joyce said he was grateful to the Jacobs for allowing the pocket park to remain in place for so long.
“Folks need to remember that the landowners let us keep the pocket park there for free for four years,” Joyce said. “It was really meant to be a short-term installation, and so, I want to thank them. Everyone, including the landowner, is sorry that it had to move.”
Joyce said he was relieved and happy that the pocket park would live on, albeit in a new configuration.
“It’s a fine outcome,” Joyce said. “I would have liked it to stay. But to be perfectly honest, I don’t think the pocket park would have lasted much longer without being rebuilt. I think it reached the end of its useful life.
“So now, in moving it, I’m going to be required to rebuild it and refinish it. It was basically high time for that to happen anyway,” he added.