As the city plots the future of a downtown park, no idea is off limits — even if it impacts an iconic piece of artwork in the center of the public space.
You might not know where Pineapple Park is off the top of your head, but you probably know the mermaid fountain that sits to the east of the intersection of Lemon and Pineapple avenues.
In December, the city embarked on an effort to create a more distinct identity for Pineapple Park, a 6,600-square-foot property in the center of downtown. In the process, the city is willing to float ambitious proposals. That includes the potential reconfiguration of that fountain, a piece of artwork that has defined the park for nearly 24 years.
The city held a public workshop Feb. 2 to gather ideas about the park. One of the questions at the heart of the workshop was what, exactly, is essential for maintaining the character of Pineapple Park — and what can be changed in exchange for a better overall design?
David Conner, whose Tampa-based design firm David Conner + Associates is consulting with the city on a master plan for Pineapple Park and Lemon Avenue, suggested that no idea is off limits.
He acknowledged he was coming to the discussion as an outsider, but he suggested changes to the fountain should be taken under consideration. He praised the tile artwork at the center of the fountain, but said the bulky, rectangular shape of the surrounding pools make the piece a challenging focal point for such a small space.
“I’m trying to understand how it’s connected, and I don’t see it,” Conner said. “I know I can make a modification that would make that piece of artwork more important.”
The city, responding to a push from residents, is investing nearly $150,000 to repair the mermaid fountain, titled Good Heart Place. During the workshop, some resisted the idea of making major alterations to the fountain.
“I know it’s too large, and it doesn’t look like it’s centered, because the whole park has been chopped up now,” resident Jude Levy said. “I think we need to retain our history. I think it’s an iconic thing, and it’s funky, and it’s delightful.”
The park was originally one larger contiguous piece of land along Pineapple Avenue. In 2005, however, Lemon Avenue was rerouted, bisecting the park and throwing off its original design.
Conner said another priority is making the two parts of the park feel like one again — making the space feel larger despite the limited footprint. He pointed to examples in Fort Worth, Texas, and Boston to show the city can turn a small park into something more vibrant, even with a street cutting through.
One idea the city is committed to investigating is extending the brick-lined Lemon Avenue Mall south to Pineapple Avenue. Public Works General Manager Todd Kucharski said the street conditions may pose a logistical challenge, but staff will examine the plan's feasibility.
Conner said the city could eliminate the curbs and parking spaces along Lemon Avenue to create a less distinct boundary between the east and west segments of the park.
The workshop also focused on the potential to plant trees to create shade in the park — a popular idea among those in attendance.
“We need a thick canopy overhead,” resident Barbara Campo said. “That whole area just basks in open sunshine.”
The process remains in the brainstorming phase. The city is seeking more feedback from residents, which will help inform a series of concept designs Conner will produce to generate further discussion. The master planning team will also meet with representatives from the Sarasota Farmers Market later this month to talk about the potential improvements.
The city hopes to hold another workshop in March to present the designs. Kucharski suggested the design firm could produce one plan with the fountain intact, one with the fountain reconfigured and one with it removed — to get people thinking, if nothing else.
Conner acknowledged the need to preserve important parts of the city’s history. As the master planning process for Pineapple Park continues, he encouraged residents to think critically about the best way to balance history with a long-term vision.
“Connecting with our past is very important,” he said. “Sometimes, that means we have to look at those pieces and make adjustments in order to protect them for the future.”
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