by Max Brantley
Use of War Memorial Park is a hot-button topic, though it's more often a matter of talk than action.
Today comes news, at least to me, that 1.5 acres of the park has been given over to a Cancer Survivors Park with eight sculptures. (They have one of these parks in Memphis. Photo is of sculpture by same guy who'll do them here.)
I guess I missed the public hearings and City Board discussions of this idea and the design. It's a product of the private, nonprofit City Parks Conservancy. We're doing it because the foundation started by the founder of H and R Block wants to put these cancer parks in cities all over America. If this was a suggestion raised in the years of discussion about War Memorial uses, I missed it.
PS -- I didn't miss anything. This is one of those famous, worked-out-in-private deals for which Little Rock is so well known. The plan will be approved after the fact. It's unclear if it's going to annex part of the existing children's playground or be nearby (UPDATE: It's a parking lot across the street.) The playground is to be rebuilt, and supposedly, expanded. Whatever happens will come out of existing uses, perhaps the golf course, a stepchild that the powers-that-be yearn to close.
Read on for, first, the news release, and then my efforts to get a few more details. It's a mistake, I know, to question anything wrapped in the gauze of cancer treatment. But this is an unavoidable example of how, for all the protestations about city interest in citizen input, that a handful of people think they own War Memorial Park. I know I should simply count blessings. Another LR sculpture garden is better than a Walmart.
Little Rock, Arkansas – The Richard and Annette Bloch Foundation has chosen to site a Cancer Survivors Park in Little Rock’s War Memorial Park. “We are excited to bring this million dollar enhancement to War Memorial. It will serve as a location of celebration for cancer survivors and their families,” said Stacy Hurst Little Rock City Director.
The Cancer Survivors Park will include a minimum of 1-1/2 acres in a heavily trafficked area containing one corner location for a primary sculpture to serve as the entrance to the park. Featured on the sculpture will be the message “Cancer… There’s Hope.” The proposed site is located within War Memorial Park at the corner of Fairpark Boulevard and Clubhouse Drive.
The park will host a sculpture by Victor Salmones that features eight life-sized figures passing through a maze representing cancer treatment and success. The sculpture will be placed at the most visible point in the park and will also be accompanied by a “Positive Mental Attitude Walk” that will encourage visitors to meditate and learn from 14 different plaques that promote hope for fighting cancer. Visitors will also be able to visit the “Road to Recovery,” which will feature seven plaques that outline what cancer is and ways to overcome the disease.
“It is a fantastic opportunity to have a site in such close proximity to the world class institutions of UAMS, St. Vincent, and Arkansas Children’s Hospital. This park will serve as a wonderful retreat for patients, family and friends,” added City Parks Conservancy board member Cinde Drilling.
The City Parks Conservancy is a nonprofit organization committed to providing resources and supporting partnerships that augment efforts to sustain a healthy, beautiful and usable parks system for the citizens of Little Rock. For more information about the Parks Conservancy, please visit cityparkconservancy.org.
ARK. TIMES QUESTIONS:
Was there a public hearing held on the idea or the design for this new feature?
Did the City Board approve the idea, or the city parks commissioin?
It's not clear to me precisely where this land is located. Will this take children's playground land?
KELLI WILHITE, DIRECTOR, CITY PARKS CONSERVANCY
Thank you for your interest in the press announcement that was released this morning. To date, the City Parks Conservancy has been awarded site approval and is now exploring the design phase. The procedure is to submit the design to the Bloch Foundation's Park Committee. Upon design approval, CPC will enter into the contract phase.
The site is at the corner of
Fairpark Boulevardand Clubhouse Drive. No, this will not take children's playground space. The concept was well received and endorsed the Parks Commission, the City Board has been made aware of the Conservancy's efforts to achieve this grant, and the Parks Department is elated at the opportunity to have such an open space. The community will be invited to share in the design aspect through public hearings.
This is a $1 million park improvement paid with private funds, and is part of the Conservancy's efforts to uphold the mission of the organization in supporting partnerships and improving our parks for all citizens.
Again, thank you for your interest.
The site was approved by whom?
Do you have a copy of the agenda of the Parks Commission meeting at which this was discussed. I don't recall getting notice of such a meeting.
What land will be taken for this park? I'm still unclear. How much land will be taken?
Maintenance will, of course, be a publicly funded responsibility.
Why are you sure the public will receive this idea more favorably than another park use?
Don't you think perhaps input on the front end, before it was secretly approved, would have been a better approach to public acceptance?
Why did the conservancy seek out the Bloch money, for another cookie-cutter park that merely replicates a chain they are building around the country, rather than perhaps trying to achieve some of the ideas mentioned in the many public hearings held on War Memorial uses?
is a park that offers hope for those patients and families recently diagnosed with cancer. The Conservancy worked closely with Little Rock Parks Department to propose the best location to The Bloch Foundation for such a park. Given the close proximity to the stellar institutions that provide world-class care and treatment for patients locally and across the globe this site was presented to the Bloch Foundation and approved. Cancer Survivors Park
The site is embraced by UAMS, St. Vincent Infirmary, with Arkansas Children’s Hospital immediately accessible to the south. This park will provide a much needed and deserved retreat for patients, their families and friends who are confined to hospital walls during treatment. In addition, this space will offer hope and encourage them that cancer can be overcome.
It has been proposed that a portion of the funds received from the grant be used to set up an endowment for maintenance of this park.
The design for the park in Little Rock will indeed be unique. As advised by the Bloch Foundation, there are three fundamental elements that are consistent with the existing parks: a sculpture that is placed in the most visible point in the park and involves eight life-size figures passing through a maze; secondly, a Positive Mental Attitude Walk among the figures that allows visitors to stroll through, meditate and learn from 14 plaques of hope; the third element is a “Road to Recovery” with seven plaques describing what cancer is and basic actions to overcome this disease.
You have answered few, if any, of my questions.
Will a heart surgery memorial be next?
Then an eye surgery memorial?
How about a tribute to emergency room physicians?
You can cover this in the gloss of cancerism all you want, but there are serious questions here about who decides how city parks are used and who may be allowed a use outside the process that applies to everyone else.
I'd still like to know, at least, how much land you plan to take from other park uses and exactly where it is.
The site was proposed by the parks department and approved by the parks commission in a regularly scheduled parks commission meeting.
The press is notified of all parks commission meetings. You would have to get a copy of the Agenda from the parks department.
The improvements will sit on 1.5 acres, at the corner of Club House and Fair Park, which is now a parking lot.
The Conservancy will set aside a portion of the grant funds for a permanent endowment.
The concept was enthusiastically embraced by the parks department and the parks commission.
There was nothing secretive about approval. The Conservancy worked in partnership with the Parks Department and Parks Commission to apply for the grant.
Many of the uses recommended in the public hearing process will be implemented. $1.2 million of public money will go toward improving Coleman Creek, creating pedestrian trails, increased green space, a new playground area with new play equipment, and an interactive water feature. The Bloch grant will provide additional improvements.
For the record, I received no prior notice of a discussion of this issue.
UPDATE: EMAIL FROM CITY DIRECTOR STACY HURST
I was approached probably 3 years ago by the Director of Development at then ACRC about this opportunity. She knew about these grants and thought a Cancer Survivors Park would be a great asset at War Memorial because of its proximity to UAMS, ACRC and St. Vincent's. I suggested she contact the City Parks Conservancy. The Conservancy went through all of the proper channels. They worked with the Parks Department to find appropriate sites and then took the concept and sites to the Parks Commission. At one of their regularly scheduled monthly meetings, the Parks Commission enthusiastically endorsed and voted unanimously to move forward. There was nothing secretive.
All we have right now is site approval. The design phase will be next which will include an opportunity for public input. Particularly appealing about the Bloch Grant is that $100,000 is provided for a maintenance endowment.
We don't have many opportunities to receive a million dollars in private money for improvements to a city park. As the director who has probably invested the most time and energy into War Memorial, I welcome this partnership. Stacy Hurst
I won't bore you with my full response. But I asked Director Hurst who made her emperor of War Memorial Park; whether the hearings on park use were meaningless; whether some other useful park developments (basketball courts, tennis courts, trails) might not be more productive; and whether anybody with $1 million could get an acre and a half for their pet project.