Unlike many city parks that attract users with their sports fields or playground equipment, Falls Park’s attraction is natural.
The Reedy River, Reedy River Falls, and green space beckon the park’s visitors, serving as a downtown oasis.
With major projects on the river’s east bank either underway — Camperdown, Centennial American Properties’ redevelopment of the block of South Main across from the Peace Center that includes office space, a 140-room AC Hotel, apartments, retail, and condominiums — or planned — a Grand Bohemian hotel by the Kessler Collection where the Wyche law firm is now located — the city is focusing on how it can protect the park’s natural resources.
“Urban development needs to be led by public space planning, and it’s Falls Park,” said Darren Meyer, principal of MKSK, a landscape architecture, planning, and urban design consultant working with the city on those public spaces.
The river’s east bank, defined as the river between Japanese Dogwood Lane and the Bowater building, has tremendous potential, Meyer said.
“Even though it’s not the ceremonial entrance to the park, it will get a lot of use,” he said.
That raises the question of what can be done to help protect the natural resources that made the park so popular in the first place, Meyer said. “How do we stabilize the banks and manage undergrowth? How do the pathways take shape? What are the options from the more golf-course approach to paths to having more of a natural edge?” he said.
One question is how the plan deals with the Bowater garage, which is mere feet from the river. Landscaping could be used to screen, not hide, the garage from the park. “One thing to look at it if the garage wasn’t there, would the screen work there,” he told members of the City Council’s neighborhood and planning committee. Landscaping could be used, he said.
A staircase will create a new Falls Park entry from Main Street to Japanese Dogwood Lane. The design, which hasn’t been finalized and must go through the Planning Commission, likely will incorporate landings so the staircase can be a social space, Meyer said. Camperdown has agreed to build the staircase and the city will reimburse the company over 25 years through tax revenue growth generated by the development.
In addition, three options are being studied for the public green space at the corner of Main and Broad streets. Edward Kinney, senior landscape architect for the city, said the corner needs to serve two purposes — moving people through the development and providing a gathering place for people to linger. The options range from a small urban forest with movable seating to a design with more distinct paths to one that has planters and seating areas.