City Council Agrees to Further Examine Build Our Park’s Unsolicited Proposal to Build a Downtown Park
March 27, 2018
Harrisonburg, VA – Harrisonburg City Council has agreed to further explore an unsolicited proposal to build a downtown park from Build Our Park, a community-led nonprofit organization committed to facilitating the creation of a public park in downtown Harrisonburg. Build Our Park submitted a Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act (PPEA) proposal for City Council’s consideration for a privately funded park on City property behind City Hall in the heart of downtown.
The Commonwealth of Virginia enacted the PPEA process in 2002 to allow public and private entities to work in partnership on projects. According to the Virginia Department of General Services, the Act “enables public bodies to partner with private entities to bring private sector expertise to bear on public projects and encourage innovative approaches to financing construction and renovation.” The Build Our Park proposal is considered unsolicited, as the City of Harrisonburg has not issued a Request for Proposals for a downtown park. However, Build Our Park has been working closely with members of City staff and City Council to plan and design the park.
With the understanding that Build Our Park and the City of Harrisonburg need to formalize the process for bringing these plans to reality, city staff recommended that the Build Our Park organization move forward by submitting a formal proposal to proceed with the project via the process outlined in the Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act of 2002.
“Build Our Park is excited to be taking a step forward in turning the community’s vision for a stunning gathering space into a reality,” says Andrea Dono, a board member for Build Our Park and the executive director for Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance. “The PPEA process allows us to work in partnership with the City and take the lead on developing a public amenity that will boost quality of life for residents.”
City staff presented City Council with the PPEA proposal during “Other Matters.” In a procedural context, City Council members agreed to further examination of the proposal. This move allows the project to enter into an interim-planning phase with City staff. The City is now required to publish notice of the unsolicited proposal and accept competing proposals during the next 45 days. By accepting the Build Our Park proposal, City Council is not approving the park project, but is triggering the next step in the process. During this time, City staff may review the proposed project and may negotiate an interim agreement with Build Our Park. After 45 days, the City will decide to either proceed with the second review stage or to not proceed further with the proposal. If the City ultimately decides to work with Build Our Park on the project, they will enter into a comprehensive agreement where details will be determined regarding potential bonds, insurance, and terms and conditions.
A group of Harrisonburg stakeholders formed in 2013 with the goal of facilitating the creation of a public park in downtown Harrisonburg. Originally known as Plan Our Park, the group rebranded and formed the nonprofit organization Build Our Park. In 2017, in order to balance parking needs and the desire for a community recreation amenity, the City directed Build Our Park to redesign its park concept to fit in the space behind City Hall between the Turner Pavilion and the tree line south of the Pavilion. Local architects who are members of the Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance Design Committee, Adam Steiniger of Eugene Stoltzfus Architects and Randy Seitz of Blue Ridge Architects, volunteered to create the final concept design plan that the PPEA proposes.
The Build Our Park Board of Directors has been working with City staff to plan the park’s new design and would continue to work with them to plan the park’s construction as well as on-going maintenance and operations. During this process, fundraising for the park has been on hold. On April 18, the organization looks forward to restarting its fund- raising effort in conjunction with The Community Foundation’s Great Community Give. The Great Community Give is a single day of giving aimed at promoting charitable giving in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. Through this initiative, the entire community will be invited to support Build Our Park and other nonprofits that meet needs, enrich lives, and build a community we can all enjoy.
As Harrisonburg’s downtown continues its reemergence as a dynamic environment in which to live, work, eat and shop, the thoughts of many have turned to the need for more public green space for gathering in the City’s core. The downtown park’s concept features a multi-use path, expanded pavilion, open space, play area designed to resemble nature, pergolas for shade, and splash fountains. It will incorporate the area adjacent to the Turner Pavilion that currently is used for community programming and events. The park would be designed to be flexible to accommodate a growing farmers market, public events, community gatherings, and wellness.