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[Charleston] Slack Park

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Mayor explains Slack Park ideas to beautification panel

Key --

1. Slack Park is between Summers and Laidley Streets.

2. It was constructed in the mid 1980s to connect downtown with the then-new Charleston Town Center. It features benches, picnic tables, and a bust stop at the Transit Mall along Laidley Street.

3. But lately, it has become a concentration area for the homeless and panhandlers who spout off derogatory and rude comments to users of the park, especially women.

4. Several months ago, the mayor ordered the city workers to remove the benches and install spiky "loafer rails" along the park walls to discourage people from sitting there. The park was to become a "throughfare."

5. Last month, the mayor asked beautification members on ways to improve the park.

5a. As a result, more than one-dozen mature Bradford pear trees on the north side were cut.

6. Lately, there have been talks of a redesign of the park.

Article information: "Mayor explains Slack Park ideas to beautification panel, By Jim Balow, Charleston Gazette, April 4, 2007"

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I understand the attempt to remove the 'undesirables'... but I thought the point of a park was for there to be a place for people to hang out and enjoy being outside...

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Well, benches are still provided. And given that there are plans to redesign the park to be more meandering and less of a throughfare. But the solution to add spike strips is only a stop-gap measure. It's very similar to what Huntington did (remove park benches and did not install any upon the redesign) to 'solve' the homeless panhandling issue.

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Food vendors, live music suggested for controversial park

Key --

1. Adding food vendors and live music (esp. during the summer months), and enhancing the green space are some of the idea that have been thrown about by the committee.

1a. There should be more green space -- trees, bushes and flowers.

2. Mayor Danny Jones formed the 11-member committee last week to deal with Slack Park.

3. In January, the mayor had strips of metal spikes (loafer rails) installed. In March, the city removed 20 trees.

Article information: "Food vendors, live music suggested for controversial park, by Matthew Thompson, Daily Mail staff, Monday April 09, 2007"

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Mayor aims to ax Slack fountain

With photograph.

Key --

1. Mayor Danny Jones proposes:

1a. The fountain will be removed and turned into a planter bed,

1b. Trees will be planted to replace the Bradford pears that were just recently removed,

1c. The low retaining wall will be removed.

2. Others want the park to be redesigned.

3. Mayor Jones has stated the fountain must be removed because people throw trash and bathe in it.

4. The city manager suggested two solutions: short-term and long-term.

Article information: "Mayor aims to ax Slack fountain, By Jim Balow, The Charleston Gazette, April 17, 2007"

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Slack Plaza to receive trees, roses

Notes --

1. New trees will be installed at the north end of Slack Plaza to replace the original Bradford pear trees that were cut down. The Mayor favors the plan despite pleas to redesign the park. Roses will also be planted.

2. Side note: The Kanawha City Bicycle Trailhead park @ 57th Street is nearly complete.

Article information: "Slack Plaza to receive trees, roses, By Jim Balow, Charleston Gazette, May 02, 2007"

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Slack Plaza: A look back

Notes --

1. Slack Park opened in 1984 between Summers and Laidley streets. It is a pedestrian thoroughfare between the Charleston Town Center mall (the "new Charleston") and the Capitol Street business district (the "old downtown"). It has pedestrian and gathering functions, such as picnic tables and park benches, and a Transit Mall on the Laidley Street side -- the hub of KRT's bus system. The park was the idea of Joe Smith, Charleston city mayor from 1980 to 1983. The name stems from the Joe Smith's successor, Mayor Mike Roark, who came up with Slack Plaza and Brawley Walkway.

2. The park, although built by Mayor Smith and dedicated by Mayor Roark, originated in 1972 shortly after Mayor John Hutchinson was elected mayor. The discussion then revolved around a convention hall and an expanded Charleston Civic Center, a motel, and the "Superblock", an in-town mall. The original concept was that a walkway from Court Street behind the old Greyhound Station up to Fife Street be constructed. A transit mall, where the buses would come in, would be constructed. The idea hinged on moving the old Greyhound terminal from Summers Street.

2a. The city offered Greyhound a new, low-rent terminal on the ground floor of a new city parking structure near the Civic Center on Reynolds Street. The city hoped to use federal transportation grants for the project, and would have several benefits. The new station would be closer to the interstate system; the parking garage was part of the city's park-and-ride plan to let commuters park at the edge of downtown and ride into the center on new trolleys; and Greyhound would give the old terminal to the city to be demolished for a park.

2b. Greyhound "leaped at the chance". They were unhappy at the current structure and the current setup: Before the Transit Mall, some KRT buses traveled down Capitol Street, while others followed other streets. Transfers often involved walking several city blocks.

3. The bus station was later demolished, along with the former Kearse Theater. The city applied for a variety of federal grants to pay for the project, estimated at $26 million in 1980, for a new parking garage and bus terminal. It came through successfully.

4. Mayor Smith hired the head of the Dallas office of RTKL Associates -- who were the architects for the Charleston Town Center -- to design the park and walkway. Smith met with Greyhound leaders in Tucson, Arizona, and HUD officials in Philadelphia. A HUD official said he would approve the project, however, he stated that the U.S. Department of Transportation would "come up with the idea on their own"; he also stated to not publicize the details. As a result, the city of Charleston won an Urban Mass Transportation Grant worth more than $20 million. Mayor Smith appointed a committee of Fife Street and Summers Street merchants to work the architects, hoping that the end result would be renovated buildings near the park.

5. The design of the plaza would be bold: a tiered plaza with landscaping, benches and picnic tables. It would feature a focal point with a double fountain near the Transit Mall, with electronically controlled water jets tied to a wind gauge mounted on top of the Transit Mall. If the wind would pick up, for instance, the jets would cut the water flow to prevent dousing the passerbys. It also added an outdoor map of the bus system controlled by a button that lit up -- a novelty for the day.

6. One controversial subject were toilets. Councilman David Mohler stated the city should not provide toilets because it would create more problems than convenience. Stanley Lowenstein replied with, "What is it with West Virginians? You go anywhere in the world and there are public restrooms. If the city won’t build them, I’ll build them myself." Those very sentiments carried through and the city constructed restrooms in the back of the KRT building.

7. Another sore point was the flashing fountain that rarely worked. Later, the fountain was turned off completely and under Mayor Danny Jones plan, it would be turned into a large planter.

8. The electronic map lasted less than four years -- a foot went through the glass map and it was not replaced.

9. Later in the late 1990s, the park was beset with gun violence.

10. The park was dedicated on July 4, 1984. It featured a stage from the 1980s into the 1990s in a small elevated area beside the fountains that was the home of FestivALL, a new summer event where concerts were held. The Charleston Sternwhell Regatta Festival hosted lunchtime concerts, puppet shows, jitterbug contests and art exhibits. Others held rallies, such as a candlelight vigil against sexual assault by the National Organization for Women. Many were coordinated through the Downtown Merchants Association and the Charleston Renaissance Corp.

Article information: "Slack Plaza: A look back, By Jim Balow, Charleston Gazette, May 29, 2007"

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