Finlay Park’s glory days are behind it, but not for long, the city hopes.
Along with an investment of $310,000 in redesign plans for the well-worn downtown park and a possible $10 million in construction, city leaders also are hoping to see the public invest in a vision for the Finlay’s future.
City officials met last week to discuss the redesign planning process, and a series of community focus groups and public input meetings are tentatively scheduled for Oct. 1 and 2.
“It is the iconic park of Columbia,” said Jeff Caton, director of Parks and Recreation. “When its name is used, everyone recognizes what Finlay Park is, what Finlay Park was and, I think, has hopes for what Finlay Park can be.”
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Once recognized as a downtown gem, the park’s condition has deteriorated over recent years. Overused and undermaintained, the park is due for a facelift that will likely include improvements to its retaining walls, prominent water feature and entryways, Caton said. Construction also likely will include the installation of artist Blue Sky’s “Busted Plug” sculpture and water feature, he said.
Planners will work on setting standards for the kinds of activities and size of gatherings that are appropriate for the park, “to make sure we’re not abusing the park, taking into consideration how it’s designed and our ability to keep it up,” Caton said.
“We’ve kind of been everything to everybody, and in some ways that’s contributed to the condition of the park,” Caton said.
What neighbors want for the park is for it to be “functional and safe,” said Bob Wynn, president of the Arsenal Hill Neighborhood Association, whose residents live near the park.
“It brings to mind opportunities for concerts, family picnics or gatherings of that nature,” Wynn said. “Of course, the playground used to be, and hopefully will become, a place for kids to enjoy. We’ve all always seen in the past couples having an opportunity to sit on the swings and enjoy the sunset or just a nice day in the park by the waterfall – a place of gathering that is comfortable and welcoming.”
At the earliest, construction at Finlay Park could begin around this time next year, Caton said.
Including the beginnings of the Finlay Park upgrade, the city is spending nearly $4 million this year on efforts to improve six public parks in its 60-park system.