More than four years after it officially opened to visitors in downtown Mobile, Mardi Gras Park will be undergoing a second phase of construction.
On Tuesday, May 4, the Mobile City Council voted to approve more than $1 million for drainage improvements, landscaping and a stage at the park near the base of the Bankhead Tunnel.
The city is only responsible for a portion of the contract with Harris Contracting Service, as the Hearin-Chandler Foundation is chipping in $650,000 in private funding. The park was initially built with help from the foundation in the form of $1 million. The initial investment in the park totaled about $2.5 million.
Councilman Joel Daves commended the foundation for its previous work of bringing William Hearin’s vision for the property at Royal and Government streets to fruition. While the city signed a 50-year lease with the county on land where a 1950s-era courthouse building was located, the city had to begin development of the property soon after Mayor Sandy Stimpson took office, Daves said, or risk having control turned back over to the County Commission.
“This is an indication of what can be done with a true public-private partnership,” Daves said.
Of the $1 million invested into the second phase of the park, more than $400,000 will go to drainage issues, Daves said. The drainage improvements will allow for the land to dry out and for better landscaping to be added, Stimpson said.
When the building on the property was initially torn down, Stimpson said, the remains of it were put in the basement and covered with dirt. For years, that has prevented the land from draining property, especially near the section of the park facing Church Street. Alleviating the problem includes a plan to run a drainage pipe into the former basement.
Without proper drainage, Stimpson said, the property has not been able to support more intricate landscaping. Once the drainage is fixed, the property will be able to support trees, among other forms of landscaping.
“The Hearin Foundation would like to see more landscaping,” Stimpson said. “The entertainment venue will be a stage that can support bands or speakers.”
Initially, Stimpson had proposed construction of a structure to house vendors, like a smaller version of New Orleans’s French Market, and while a third phase for what he called a “passive park” could be a reality with the right mix of funding, he believes that will be years away. Stimpson mentioned the park could host temporary markets in its current form. It is surrounded by statues depicting various scenes from the city’s Carnival celebrations.
“As a passive park, I think it brings attention to the history of the city,” Stimpson said, following the meeting. “I think it’s serving its function as a focal point of the city’s history.”
In other business, the council voted unanimously to honorarily rename a section of North Conception Street from Adams Street to Congress Street as Rennie Brabner Avenue.
Brabner died last year as a result of complications related to COVID-19. He was praised by councilors Tuesday for his efforts to revitalize the DeTonti Square neighborhood downtown.
Brabner was so important to the fabric of the community that Council President Levon Manzie said he was made a permanent member of the neighborhood’s board.
“They couldn’t get rid of him even if they wanted to,” Manzie said. “He couldn’t be voted out.”
Councilwoman Gina Gregory said she remembers him covering City Hall as a radio reporter when she worked in television news. Others, like Councilman John Williams, remember him as a Mardi Gras expert and host of the “MoonPie Minute” on FM Talk 106.5.
In a text message, station owner and “Midday Mobile” host Sean Sullivan said the council’s vote resulted in a lot of “wet eyes” around the studio.
“This means a lot to all of us,” Sullivan wrote. “Rennie was a friend to everybody at FM Talk.”
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