A New Life for Downtown Phoenix’s Deck Park?

[Source: Connie Cone Sexton, The Arizona RepublicFeaturing a quotation from past DVC Chair, and current Secretary, Steve Weiss.

Photograph: Michael Schennum/The Arizona Republic

Work is under way to pump new life into a 32-acre park that floats above the Deck Park Tunnel near downtown Phoenix.

City officials are dusting off the late 1980s original master plan and hope one day to find the money to see envisioned projects become real.

Twenty years ago this month, Valley residents flocked to the opening of the tunnel, a marvel of transportation engineering that cut a hole through a half-mile of central Phoenix real estate.

It was the final puzzle piece to finish Interstate 10 and create an unbroken 2,400-mile-plus stretch between California and Florida.

But the tunnel was also one of the biggest bonanzas for the city of Phoenix: a chance to create a park atop the portion of the Papago Freeway between Third Avenue and Third Street, just south of McDowell Road.

Thousands of homes had already been cleared when initial plans called for the highway segment to be aboveground.

Officials and area residents had grand plans for a sort of mini Central Park: Visitors to the Deck Park would be able to stroll through a grassy picnic area, pass through a grove of trees into a bustling urban plaza, snap a few pictures by the park’s fountains and carousel, then head for a concert at the outdoor amphitheater.

Since opening in 1992 as the renamed Margaret T. Hance Park, the site offers several amenities, including the Japanese Friendship Garden, the Irish Cultural Center and large expanses of grass, but it lacks the allure that city leaders hoped to see.

Downturns in the economy and constraints on the Phoenix budget kept the city from adding features like the amphitheater and carrousel. Although a handful of festivals are held outside the Burton Barr Central Library, which sits on the northern midpoint of the park, more are needed, observers say.

But with a resurgence of interest and activity in downtown Phoenix and new residents moving into surrounding historic homes, the time is right to take another look at the park, said Tom Bryne, a landscape architect for the city.

The potential for the site is great, he said, adding: “It has good bones but not a lot of attractions or things in the park to stimulate activity.”

A task force reviewing the park and neighbors say they’d like to see better lighting, maybe a dog park, coordination among the cultural groups to expand activities, a bike-rental shop, food vendors and canopies of shade.

Joan Kelchner, a member of the neighborhood Roosevelt Action Association, is excited that the city is starting what she calls “a very aggressive attempt to update the park.”

Kelchner, who moved into the Roosevelt Historic District adjacent to the park in 1984, hopes the new visioning of the park will spur the preservation of the city-owned Winship House, a historic building on the west side of the park.

She believes it will take private-public partnerships to truly ignite the master plan for Hance Park. Kelchner suggests a public outdoor market for the site and for artists’ lofts to be developed, much like what the original plan envisioned.

“There has been progress at the park, but it’s been spotty,” she said.

Steve Weiss, secretary of the Downtown Voices Coalition, wishes Hance Park were used more frequently.

“The sad thing about some of the Phoenix parks is that they’re either ignored or loved to death. Hance Park is falling into the former category.”

Jim Burke, Phoenix assistant parks director, is encouraged by the activity he does see.

“There are a lot of folks who jog through or use it as passive recreation,” he said. “But it’s probably a little underutilized.”

Jonathan Davis, a former landscape architect for Howard Needles, Tammen & Bergendoff, who was the project coordinator for the deck, said the park and the tunnel came about when the city was coming of age.

The tunnel and park project is an “incredible engineering marvel,” said Davis, now president of SEMI North America. “It was a fantastic project that had a real hope to serve as a catalyst for growth.”

He said the park was a terrific solution for easing an old wound after the homes had been leveled to make room for the freeway. Instead of a divide that separated neighborhoods, the park, he said, “could be the bridge.”

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One thought on “A New Life for Downtown Phoenix’s Deck Park?”

  1. There seems to be plenty of life there now; just not the type that attracts families. Not to belittle the people who choose to live free, but it’s not the sort of thing that makes for a pleasant stroll from the Japanese Garden to the Library.

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