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Planners reveal design for Mill River corridor
[October 22, 2006]

Planners reveal design for Mill River corridor

(Stamford Advocate, The (Stamford, CT) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Oct. 22--STAMFORD -- A fountain that would become a winter skating rink, a carousel and a kayak landing would draw people to the waterfront in a design for the Mill River Park and Greenway being unveiled this week to potential donors and the public.

The redesigned and expanded 14-acre park -- part of 26 acres of open space planned to link Stamford Harbor to Scalzi Park -- would build on a plan by the Army Corps of Engineers to demolish the 112-foot-wide Mill River Dam and restore the river to a more natural state.

Landscape architects from the Olin Partnership, the Philadelphia urban design firm that has redesigned New York City's Bryant Park and Columbus Circle and parts of the National Mall, will present the plan to the public Tuesday night at 6 in the Government Center lobby.


Potential donors will get a preview of the presentation tomorrow night at the home of a member of the Mill River Collaborative, a nonprofit group modeled after New York's Central Park Conservancy to raise money for park construction and maintenance.

The Army Corps of Engineers plan would replace the crumbling concrete walls upstream of the 1922 dam with slopes and wetlands leading from the lawn to a narrower riverbed.

Sediment that collects in the pond now would be carried downstream over a series of cobblestone riffles and deeper pools.

The plan would restore the potential for fish migration -- for alewife and blueback herring among other species -- to the lower 4.5 miles of the Rippowam River for the first time since 1642, when settlers erected the first dam for a grist mill that gave the lower reach of the river its name.

Drawing pedestrians

The new design, with a variety of landscapes, activities, and pathways, would promote migration of people to the park and river from surrounding urban streets.

The fountain and elliptical skating rink, modeled after those at Bryant Park and the Washington D.C.'s National Gallery of Art, would form the centerpiece of the new park, drawing visitors across a great lawn or along one of several meandering, cherry-tree-lined paths to the heart of the park and to the restored banks of the river.

The existing cherry trees, many of them donated to the city in 1957 by the late Junzo Nojima, a Japanese immigrant who settled in Stamford in 1932, would be cut down or transplanted as part of the dam project. Replacements for the trees, which some residents have urged be protected, are being grown, Puryear said.

At several points along the shore -- including the western end of Division Street and the northern and southern sides of Tresser Boulevard -- fishing piers, stone steps and wooden boardwalks would carry pedestrians to the river's edge.

A terraced lawn area west of the fountain -- which the designers envision as a concert venue -- would lead to a large stone overlook on the river's eastern bank.

A carousel and several walking paths would enliven the northwestern section of the park, near Mill River and West Broad streets. A gazebo there would be moved to a knoll on the eastern side of the park, near an apartment building planned by Archstone Communities for the corner of Washington Boulevard and West Park Place.

In response to suggestions from local teens, the design includes an amphitheater nestled in a grove of shade trees south of Tresser Boulevard that could host theater performances and poetry slams.

The basketball court removed to accommodate the Mill River Playground built in May would be relocated to the western riverbank north of Richmond Hill Avenue.

A memorial garden with 10 elm trees dedicated to the Stamford residents killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks would complement the historic West Stamford Cemetery south of Richmond Hill Avenue.

South of the historic stone bridge on South State Street, between a railroad overpass and Pulaski Street, kayakers could launch expeditions into Long Island Sound from a 160-foot long dock attached to a boardwalk.

Long-term vision

The boardwalk, near the Edward Czescik Homes senior housing complex on Greenwich Avenue, would connect to the rest of the greenway via a stone and concrete stairway built under Interstate 95. Across the river, a switchbacked path would lead from a public parking lot to the eastern bank, then connect to a greenway section being built by the Royal Bank of Scotland next to its building.

Czescik Homes is one of two senior complexes the city and the Mill River Collaborative hope to eventually raze -- only if replacement housing is built, officials say -- for later stages of park construction. It would eventually be supplanted by riverbank flower gardens designed to attract butterflies.

In the meantime, the kayak landing would not interfere with the nearby elderly housing, said Milton Puryear, executive director of the collaborative.

The other senior complex is Stamford Manor on Main Street.

"That's kind of sacrosanct," Puryear said. "It's not going to be even looked at until it's time to replace it."

Long-term plans include turning the site of Stamford Manor into a "history garden" which could showcase the environmental and industrial history of the river's development from grist mills, to factories, to the Diamond Ice Co.'s construction of the dam to harvest ice.

The plan also includes eventually acquiring the black glass office building at 1010 Washington Blvd., and incorporating the property there into the park's great lawn. Drawings show a sculpture garden on part of the site.

If the city does decide to buy the office building, it would likely rent it for 10 years or more to recoup the purchase price before demolishing it, Puryear said.

Acquiring both the senior complex and the office building would fulfill a central vision for the park: an expanding, uninterrupted view of open space from Old Town Hall to the river.

Meanwhile, the first phase calls for another path, lined with cherry trees, between the two buildings and leading from West Main Street to the great lawn.

Another long-term part of the plan includes acquiring property along the eastern bank from West Main Street to Tresser Boulevard. New zoning rules for the Mill River Corridor allow four-story housing but require developers to cede waterfront land to the city for a public esplanade.

Olin's design calls for a modern, wavy pedestrian bridge to replace the so-called "purple bridge" crossing the river at West Main Street, but Puryear said that aspect of the plan may change because of differing opinions about the future of the old bridge and the design of the new one.

Putting it together

Though it is being planned under a unifying vision, the park and the funding for it are being assembled in pieces.

Construction would cost tens of millions, beyond the $6 million estimated cost of the Army Corps' dam project and river restoration, Puryear said. The city is paying about $2 million of the dam project's costs, and waiting for Congress to include the rest in the Corps budget next year. Money for the park project is coming from the city, state and federal governments as well as private donations made through the Mill River Collaborative.

Because of that, and the long permitting process with the state Department of Environmental Protection, major construction probably won't start until 2008, Puryear said.

Parts of the park, including a section of trail along Mill River Street and a new playground, have already been built. Other work is ongoing, including removal of phragmites, an invasive riverside weed, landscaping plans for the playground and negotiations with property owners to connect two sections of boardwalk along the western harbor.

The city plans to buy another small office building and a house on the eastern shores of the river, in an area that would become part of the great lawn.

Private developers have pledged sections of the greenway where they plan housing: near the vacant McCall's printing plant building off Pulaski Street; on former power plant property in the South End; and on the Petro Oil site in Waterside. The city also is buying land off Hanrahan Street, north of West Broad Street, where another developer will build a pocket park that would help connect the greenway to Scalzi Park.

Copyright (c) 2006, The Stamford Advocate, Conn.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.
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