The city of Mobile will soon begin preliminary work on the first part of a public-private partnership to revitalize Bienville Square, a central gathering place that has suffered from years of heavy pedestrian use and last summer, Hurricane Sally.
The Category 2 storm, which felled some trees and thinned others, left the square feeling more open and airy, but also highlighted its aesthetic fatigue and lack of resiliency. Today, the Downtown Parks Conservancy accepted a $50,000 check from Regions Bank, the first corporate sponsor to donate toward the $1.1 million effort. Earlier, the Mobile City Council also committed $200,000 toward the plan from a TIF grant.
“Hurricane Sally severely damaged Bienville Square but it also represented an unprecedented opportunity to address long-standing restoration and revitalization concerns,” said Kellie Hope, president of the Downtown Parks Conservancy. “In the aftermath, we found public feedback was very positive with how bright and open the park now feels and with today’s announcement, we can embark on Phase 1 of those efforts to finish that revitalization.”
The conservancy has been developing plans for Bienville Square and other parks downtown for some time, a process that has included citizen surveys and community engagement. Hope said Phase 1 calls for redesigning and replacing the central plaza, upgrading secondary pathways, incorporating new structural soils and storm drainage, making upgrades to the historic Ketchum Fountain and planting new trees.
She noted the public-private partnership is key to the project’s success, and the combined $250,000 donation from the Mobile City Council and Regions Bank will provide a solid foundation for additional fundraising.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson said the final tree study for the square has not been completed, but it doesn’t call for “a wholesale change” of trees. But, “there may be a tree removed,” he said.
Carol Hunter, of the Downtown Mobile Alliance, said the conservancy’s plan “will not change the overall design” of Bienville Square, but will seek to enlarge and open the central space “for more event space where people will gather without having to be on the landscaping.”
Preliminary designs also depict “seat walls” constructed throughout the park and additional hedges.
Stimpson said the first phase of the project will “set the tone for what the square will look like for the next 50 to 60 years,” but will attempt to preserve the familiar elements. The fountain will be dismantled, repaired and reset in a restored basin with new plumbing and electrical, but the city has not decided whether to replace the cast iron fence surrounding it.
Soil testing and other engineering may begin on the project in as little as two weeks, but more intrusive construction is expected by the end of the spring. Parts of the square may close while construction is ongoing, Stimpson said.
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