For years, citizens of Harrisonburg have found a City-owned lawn area behind City Hall, the “grassy knoll”, convenient for open air concerts, festivals, fundraising events, informal sports and games, parade staging, dog-walking, picnicking, flea markets, etc.
In 2006, the incorporated Harrisonburg Farmer’s Market Association relocated from the Water Street lower parking deck to the Municipal parking lot adjacent to the “grassy knoll”.
This area behind the Municipal Building quickly gained a multi-purpose pavilion facility thanks to the 2009 completion of the Turner Pavilion financed by private and public funds.
The concept of converting the so-called grassy knoll and surrounding municipally owned property to a downtown urban park grew out of a persuasive 2008 Eugene Stoltzfus Architects downtown study resulting in formal designation by City Council of the grassy knoll proper as a park in 2009 and authorization for Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance (HDR) to raise funds to improve the area.
Private funds became available in 2010 for a conceptual design study by Blue Ridge Architects and ABL Landscape Architecture. This study showed an amphitheater, parking deck, and day lighting Blacks Run, further advancing the park concept.
In April, 2011 the first Rocktown Beer & Music Festival was held using the park and pavilion. Based on the success of the event, many in the community voiced increased support for the urban park proposal. This led to the formation of the Plan Our Park Committee and an Advisory Committee composed of volunteers representing key sectors of the local community including Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, downtown property and business owners, James Madison University, donors, and the general public.
Following a series of exploratory public meetings, extensive research, and field visits to exemplary downtown parks in analogous cities, the Plan Our Park Committee solicited proposals from firms specializing in downtown parks for planning, design, engineering, park operation, and financial analysis services.
The Committee selected the Workshop Design Team (WDT), a consortium of nationally prominent Ken Smith Landscape Architect and HR&A Advisers, Inc., both New York based; and ABL Landscape Architecture, The Stratford Companies, Frazier Associates, and Engineering Concepts, all locally based.
Following an exhaustive data gathering and physical site analysis phase, the Workshop Design Team hosted an intensive series of both focus group and public workshop meetings over the course of a week in late summer, 2013. The following report, authored by the Workshop Design Team, summarizes discoveries from both data gathering and community outreach meetings followed by recommendations for downtown park design, financial feasibility, construction funding, administration, and management.
In October 2013, City Council approved an updated Comprehensive Parks & Recreation Master Plan with a downtown park identified as an "immediate priority."
City Council accepted the Plan Our Park Conceptual Master Plan in June 2015 and appointed two City Council members to serve on a park task force.
City Council approved a new Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) in April 2016 projecting city funds for park planning in 2017, construction in 2018, and operation starting in 2019.