MDAH approves plans for Smith Park; DJP agrees to fund second phase

By ANTHONY WARREN,

Another milestone has been reached in the efforts to renovate Smith Park.

Construction was expected to begin this week on the second phase of the project, removing the water feature running along the park’s south side.

Recently, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) approved the plans, and Downtown Jackson Partners (DJP) agreed to fund it.

The work will cost approximately $100,000 and take two months to complete, DJP President Ben Allen said.

Allen doesn’t take credit for the work, but gives it to the various committees, churches, associations and government agencies involved in the process.

The third phase will cost at least $2 million, and will include opening up the park with a large, central green space with sidewalks. It was not known when that phase would get under way.

“A lot of folks have been working on this – the Friends of Smith Park, Downtown Jackson Partners’ Smith Park committee, the Downtown Neighborhood Association, St. Andrew’s (Episcopal Church), Galloway (United Methodist Church – they’ve all had input,” he said.

He also credits MDAH, the state and the city of Jackson for its efforts.

“It’s going to be nice.”

The contractor is Doc Lambert. Work will be overseen by Dave Fulgham, a tree preservationist, to ensure that none of the trees in the park will be negatively impacted by the work.

Rob Anders and Robert Poor, the landscape architects from Flora involved in the design of the Art Garden at the Mississippi Museum of Art , have also been involved, he said.

The water feature runs from the corner of East Amite Street and North Congress Street, along the park’s Amite border.

The feature was installed in the 1970s and was designed to look like a winding river.

However, the feature has been inoperable for years. The river has run dry, turning the feature into a concrete ditch.

Leaves, litter and other debris line the bed. In some spots, small plants have popped up, growing through cracks in the concrete.

Allen said the feature is dangerous. “If it was a private park, you couldn’t get it insured,” he said.

The feature fell into disrepair because of its cost of upkeep.

Last year, the Sun reported that a new pump for the facility would cost around $75,000 – a tall sum for the cash-strapped city.

Even if a new pump had been installed, the feature would have required constant maintenance to ensure continued operation.

The removal was approved at the MDAH board of trustees’ meeting on October 20, on the condition that other aspects of the park remain untouched.

The park’s Order of the Eastern Star monument, as well as its pavilion and a second monument at the southwest corner cannot be affected by the work. The park’s trees and root systems also must be undisturbed, Woodrick said.

Once the feature is removed, the area must be filled in, with sod added, he said. 

The state had to sign off on plans because the park is a designated Mississippi landmark, according to MDAH Historic Preservation Director Jim Woodrick.

“Smith Park is the last remaining portion of the (development plan put in place) when Jackson was developed,” he said.

The city’s initial grid system was laid out by Peter Van Dorn, one of the city’s founders, decades before the Civil War. The system was based on the layout of Savannah, Ga., and included a number of public green spaces, Woodrick said.

The park is also on the National Register of Historic Places, and was one of the first public facilities to be integrated, according to DJP’s Web site.

Plans were to have the renovations completed in time for the opening of the two Mississippi museums.

The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and Mississippi History Museum are slated to open on December 9, to coincide with the state’s bicentennial.

Allen said work likely will not be completed before the museums are opened, but should be by the time for the 2018 legislative session, which begins in January. “It will be close,” he said.

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