With the gap left by the relocation of the Confederate monument in mind, Lakeland’s Historic Preservation Board formed a committee recently to examine what, if anything, should become the focal point of Munn Park in downtown Lakeland.
“It’s time to restore Munn Park to what it once was or to what it should be,” Dan Fowler, chairman of the Preservation Board, told the other seven board members at their June 24 meeting.
The Historic Preservation Board’s recommendation, which will involve several months’ research and public input, would then be presented to the Lakeland City Commission.
The city of Lakeland, represented by Historic Preservation Planner Emily Foster of the Community and Economic Development Department, raised some concerns and thoughts on adding a structure to the park. Among them are:
- Maintenance costs
- Updates to the irrigation and sod systems
- Pending lawsuit on the Confederate monument’s removal
Julie Townsend, executive director of the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority, said her organization would welcome ideas that would draw guests to the downtown area without detracting from amenities and features offered nearby.
Next year’s relocation of the Explorations V Children’s Museum, a Munn Park neighbor, Townsend noted, could affect who uses the park and how. The center, where the Monument stood, is now covered with pavers. It will be the site of several upcoming city-sponsored concerts, according to city of Lakeland spokesman Kevin Cook.
“It’s still worth a discussion about what could go there, if we wanted to have some sort of centerpiece,” Townsend told the Preservation Board. “We’d want something different from any other part of the city. We have to offer unique experiences so you have a reason to travel downtown.”
Ideas thrown out include a gazebo, light feature, water feature, shade structures, bell tower and giant swings.
Chris McMachen, who will be chairing the five-person committee, shared images during the meeting of acclaimed park structures throughout the country, such as the Bending Arc at the St. Pete Pier, shade kite structures lining the Jacksonville Riverfront, Soundscape on Miami Beach and Shadow Play in Phoenix, Arizona. Prior to the monument, McMachen said, Munn Park once held a gazebo/bandstand and a large fountain.
“What can we do to bring that central focus and feel, that historic feel, back to Munn Park?” Fowler, a retired architect, said last week. “It’s now traditional for central parks in downtown areas to generally have some sort of focal point. Instead of something literal or philosophical, just some element as you walk into Munn Park to focus your eyes on.”
Care would be taken to deter transient residents from using the structure or element to sleep or bathe, and the committee would likely consider this in its discussions, Fowler said.
Cynthia Haffey, executive director of Platform Art, an organization that promotes public arts, said she’d enthusiastically welcome a piece of art in Munn Park but wants to make sure the final decision is very intentional.
“Every public location, of course, should foster public art,” Haffey said. “Every city has its own personality and needs for its citizens. We should have something that is iconic and creates a sense of place and identity for Lakeland. Lakeland should accommodate residents and visitors in the way they want to use the park.”
If the recommendation is a piece of art, the Historic Preservation Board would not need to approve it. If the recommendation is a structure, the board would need to approve it.
Among the discussion, at some point, will be how this focal element will be funded. Fowler said he looks forward to hearing the committee’s suggestions, which could include leaving the park as it is.
“Let’s make it a wonderful community park, a place people want to continue to enjoy,” Fowler said. “It could be the sound of water, certainly shade – lots of maybes. It will be a fun process.”
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