D.C. plans transformation of Franklin Park

Posted on March 14, 2013

The District and its federal partners are looking to hire a landscape designer of national renown to revamp Franklin Park, to make it a “premier active, flexible and sustainable urban park connected to its community.”

What currently sits in the heart of D.C.’s central business district, amid the city’s most valuable commercial real estate, is a park that just seems unwelcoming and unkempt.

Franklin Park, bounded by 13th, 14th, K and Eye streets NW, has seen better days. Under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, the deteriorating 4.79-acre park, the largest NPS reservation in the “Center City,” is better known for its homeless population and as a diagonal cut-through between long blocks than as an oasis of green space for residents and thousands of downtown employees who work nearby.

The request for proposals issued Wednesday seeks a landscape architect, or team, to develop “innovative and bold improvements and programming recommendations to attract and serve park users.” The property isn’t categorized in the L’Enfant Plan as a park, which should provide the District more flexibility to improve it — physically and otherwise.

Franklin, per the RFP, has the potential to be “one of our nation’s premier urban parks,” along the lines of Madison and Union Square in New York City. It should provide multiple active and passive recreational opportunities, amenities such as restrooms, food and flexible seating, and it should be framed by an enhanced streetscape. The RFP doesn’t suggest how much this work will cost.

“Our vision is that we want to turn what is currently an eyesore into an asset for the adjacent properties and the properties within the vicinity,” said Megan Kanagy, capital projects manager with the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District, a partner in the planning effort.

Franklin was first used as a park in 1819 (though the name “Franklin” didn’t appear until the 1830s), and the first comprehensive improvements came in the 1870s and 1880s, according to a D.C. staff report. It is presumably named for Benjamin Franklin, though a statue of John Barry, father of the U.S. Navy, frames its 14th Street side.

The last major changes to Franklin Park — new trees, paved flagstone plaza, symmetrical circulation system and oval fountain — came in 1935 with the aid of a $75,000 grant from the Public Works Administration. Though it was renovated in the mid-1970s as part of the Bicentennial Downtown Parks program, Franklin looks roughly the same as it did 80 years ago, even as the neighborhood has changed wholesale from residential to commercial.

And it has fallen into disrepair. The many pathways leading through the park are cracked and hazardous, and the worn lines that crisscross through the grass have created eroded trails of mud and rocks. The park lacks public amenities save for occasional rows of static seating and there are currently no events or programming.

The District envisions the park as a potential “center of a thriving community,” one that should be maintained and secured with funding provided by both the public and private sectors. The chosen contractor will be required to develop three concept designs and cost estimates for each, final schematics and an operating and maintenance plan.

It should be a “vibrant and exciting place,” Kanagy said, the opposite of what it is today.

“Right now it’s not the most pleasant place to wait for the bus,” she said. “You’re standing in the dirt and there’s not a nice place to sit, and if your bus isn’t coming for 10 minutes, you don’t have a choice.”

The overhaul of Franklin Park is a key component of the Capital Space plan, specifically “Big Idea #5,” to “make center city parks more inviting and active.” The construction of The Yards Park in Capitol Riverfront (the District’s “Center City” includes Capitol Riverfront and the Southwest Waterfront) and the renovations to McPherson Square were first on the list.

Capital Space, formed in 2006, is a partnership of the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation, the Office of Planning, the National Park Service and the National Capital Planning Commission. Its goal is to maximize limited resources through partnerships to create a stronger park system in the District.

Michael Neibauer, Washington Business Journal.