A scene from the streets of New Orleans, or Charleston, is what Mayor Sandy Stimpson envisioned last week when he unveiled plans for a new park downtown.
The proposed park, born from the vacant lot bounded by Government, Church and Royal streets, would feature an open-air market as its centerpiece, similar to the French Market in New Orleans.
“It’s an opportunity to impact the vibrancy of downtown,” Stimpson told a small group of stakeholders Nov. 19 at the History Museum of Mobile. “If you look at the traffic at Cooper (Riverside Park) and other parks, it’s very limited. The marketplace will draw people to it. The whole idea is to create activity.”
The funding for the park is already in place and $2 million is available for its construction, Stimpson said. The funds represent a public-private partnership, with half of the money coming from the city and the other half coming from the Hearin-Chandler Foundation, through the Mobile Carnival Association. Stimpson said the city’s portion of the funds has been in the budget for “several years.”
A condition for the matched funds is that the park will have a Mardi Gras theme. So in addition to the marketplace, plans for the park include Carnival-themed statues and other Mardi Gras symbolism.
The city has a lease in place with the county that expires in November 2015. The city must begin construction by that time, or the land reverts back to county control. Despite the time crunch, Stimpson expects to have more public meetings about the park before finalizing plans.
Architect Nick Holmes III, of Holmes and Holmes, said the market building would be in the Italian style, similar to the History Museum of Mobile building across Royal Street. It would be made of steel and contain 40 stalls for vendors.
“It’s basically a big open shed that can be used for other things,” Holmes said. “It’s just a big open space that will lead into the park.”
The center portion of the structure would have space for small offices. Vendors would be lined up back to back with guests flowing in around them, Holmes said.
The idea, at first, would be to attract vendors from the seasonal Market on the Square in Cathedral Square. Holmes said the 40 stalls would allow for more vendors than Market on the Square currently does. Current designs have the building backing up to Royal Street with the green space in front of it.
Holmes said the building would be equipped with water, sewer and power to allow for a possible expansion of vendors in the future.
“If we developed fish markets, or eateries in the future, we’ll have the capabilities,” Holmes said.
The park plans include space for off-street parking, as well as on-street parking along two other sides, Holmes said. The elevation of the park would have to be set at 13 feet, but access would be available through a series of steps and ramps, he said. The steps could also be used as a viewing platform for Mardi Gras parades, he said.
Stimpson said he doesn’t expect the market to be open every day at first, unless a restaurant were to open on-site permanently, but he can envision support for it in the future. The plan will eventually require City Council approval.