Council passes Church Street park plan after delay

After a mayor’s office plan to accept money for improvements to the Church Street Park downtown caught some councilmembers by surprise, the body passed the plan early Wednesday morning.

Mayor John Cooper assured Councilmember Freddie O’Connell, whose district includes the small park, that the nearly $500,000 in improvements were a temporary plan to prepare the park for the centennial celebration of the 19th Amendment, and not a permanent plan for the park.

"I think we're on the right track here," O'Connell said during the overnight meeting.

After the celebrations, Cooper wrote in a letter to O'Connell, “I am committed to a fully public process for determining the future of the park, including how we select stakeholders, vendors, designs and funding strategies.”

The group offering the improvements includes a representative from nearby Hermitage Hotel, and O’Connell balked at the implication that the business was the “only stakeholder” in the planning process. Cooper said that the grant “is not intended to imply that the Historic Capitol Corridor Foundation is the sole stakeholder of consequence in determining the future of the park.”

Among the other hopeful stakeholders is downtown developer Tony Giarratana, whose plan to swap another property for the park and build a 60-floor tower on the pocket park site was scuppered among vocal opposition, including from then-Councilmember John Cooper. The developer is now proposing an alternative to the HCCF plan.

“I wish Mayor Cooper and the Hermitage-backed effort the best of luck with the short-term plan to spruce up Church Street Park,” Giarratana said through a spokesperson. “To have a lasting impact, I hope that we can create a bolder, long-term vision that significantly improves the quality of life for the rapidly growing Church Street neighborhood.”

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