The crowds taking in Winterfest this weekend on Public Square, a mixture of ice skaters and shoppers are exactly what the Group Plan Commission had in mind when they announced plans to overhaul the space a few years ago.
The square is just one part of a connected series of projects, said Group Plan Executive Director Jeremy Paris. “You have Public Square; you have the malls (over the new convention center) and then we’re trying to build a connection between the downtown malls and the lakefront to access the amenities of the lake.”
When plans were initially announced for a pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks and shoreway the hope was the project would be completed in time for the RNC, but after realizing that wasn’t likely to happen, the decision was made to wait and do it right.
"This has got to be a meaningful connection for generations,” said Paris. “You don't do this and say oh we screwed it up let’s do it again, you got one shot to do it right. That's how we approached Public Square and it's been successful and I think the activity around the malls is showing what a great public space and asset that is. We've got to get this one right too."
"We're still very committed to figuring out that last piece of the puzzle,” he said. "We've got a great advantage which is $25 million in committed funds from the city, the county and the state."
That’s more than two-thirds of the estimated $33 million price tag.
“What we’re focusing on now with our public partners is how to advance the project to complete design and get into construction,” he said. “One thing we learned from Public Square is doing things the right way really matters.”
“We don’t have a timeframe right now, we are working on continuing to move forward, and when we have a new timeframe we’ll share it,” he said. “We are conscious of wanting to build through the momentum of what’s been done.”
“We hear this from everybody, let’s not stop and pat ourselves on the back, we constantly need to look at what’s next to improve downtown, to improve the city and complete the great work that’s been done,” said Paris.