The St. Armands Circle Business Improvement District has learned that the costs of building a public park can add up quickly, even if that park is small enough to fit in a median.
In October 2020, the board agreed to set aside up to $20,000 to build one or two parklets in the medians at St. Armands Circle, small amenity zones with such features as turf, overhead lighting, rocking chairs and an oversized chess board. In December, after refining plans and conducting more research, the BID revised its cost projections to just under $20,000 for a single parklet. When the BID sought a quote for construction from a general contractor, it got back a price of nearly $100,000.
As a result, the BID is reconsidering its approach to making upgrades around the Circle — not only by scaling back plans for the parklet but also by expanding the scope of the initiatives the board is interested in undertaking. At a March 10 meeting, BID board members expressed a desire to take a broader look at the streetscapes on St. Armands by producing plans for updating landscaping, sidewalks, lighting and signage.
“We’re not going to spend a million dollars today to redo one median, but let’s have a long-term plan,” board member Geoffrey Michel said.
BID Operations Manager Brandy Smith said the group could save money on constructing the parklet if the BID procured individual aspects of the projects directly, rather than going through a general contractor. Board members also suggested eliminating some elements of the parklet, including a shade structure, indicating that more elements could be added over time if the BID thought it was a good investment.
Although the board expressed some frustration about the ballooning price, it agreed to move forward with the parklet project and set a budget not to exceed $30,000.
“We’re right on the cusp of having something, I think, kind of cool and a little different to put there,” board member Mindy Kauffman said. “I don’t want to abandon the project.”
Looking beyond the parklet, Kauffman drew inspiration from the Downtown Improvement District, which recently budgeted money to produce conceptual plans for a Main Street streetscape project. Because board members had expressed interest in refreshing and reinvigorating the Circle, Kauffman suggested a similar approach could help facilitate improvements on St. Armands.
The board agreed to solicit a proposal from a landscape architect focused on potential upgrades in one quadrant of the Circle. Board members expressed a particular interest in plotting out lighting improvements and establishing a design standard in the right of way from the curb to the front of buildings.
Kauffman was optimistic that a conceptual look at improvements in one portion of the Circle would help build to the implementation of improvements throughout the district.
“It’ll get the momentum going,” Kauffman said.
The BID is moving toward signing a lease for commercial space at 21 Filmore Drive with the intent to establish a public restroom facility.
The board voted unanimously to authorize board member Gavin Meshad to negotiate a lease with the property owner. The BID began to consider leasing a storefront after the construction costs for building a free-standing public restroom facility exceeded original price estimates.
The group is evaluating its options for redesigning the interior of the commercial space. In addition to offering restrooms, the BID has indicated the property could serve as a welcome center and office space. The group has also suggested the storefront could be used to highlight businesses on the Circle. Meshad estimated the cost of overhauling the space at around $55,000.
Board members said they hoped the commercial space would be a more cost-effective option for addressing merchant and visitor demand for public restrooms.
“It solves a problem that has been around for a very long time,” board member Yvonne Schloss said.
The BID also intends to lease a portable trailer restroom facility for four months at an estimated cost around $20,000. The trailer is slated to be placed in St. Armands Circle Park near North Boulevard of the Presidents.