While some mocked it as pie in the sky, the city’s park in the sky will officially open this summer.
Serge Lavoie, president of On Track St. Thomas, this week released details and renderings of what the St. Thomas Elevated Park – Canada’s first such park – will look like when it officially opens Aug. 27. Making good on a promise made last April, “We’ve got a master plan, an executive summary of it and now we’re going to unleash it on the world.”
At the time, Lavoie proclaimed It’s an ambitious and exciting project with numerous goals and objectives intertwined to ensure “The iconic structure will become a centrepiece of and benefit to the identity and character of the entire community.”
Speaking to City Scope on Tuesday, Lavoie indicated construction will begin in April at the eastern approach to the Michigan Central Railroad trestle, built in 1929 at a cost of $689,000.
“We’re removing that first bridge over King Street because we don’t own the land that the bridge sits on at the east side. We’re removing that bridge because it’s kind of rickety and we’ll build a really gradual ramp all the way up to Pleasant Street so that a person in a wheelchair can wheel themselves up. That allows us to create a pedestrian plaza right at King Street.
“So the first thing we do is the earth works in April and May, then come June, July and August we actually start piecing together the bridge elements.”
And those bridge elements will be supported financially in a fashion somewhat akin to crowd funding.
“So, we’re not looking at someone to give us $500,000 for this and $200,000 for that,” Lavoie explained. “We’re looking for $2,500 a pop, and every one of those sponsorships goes to buy another eight-foot by 16-foot section until we get to the other side. So it’s a modular approach. We’ll actually be able to build the sections of decking off-site and then move them to the location and bolt them all together.”
The deck sponsorship includes the accompanying bridge railing made of a steel mesh on top, with the rest constructed of wood. The bridge is actually 30 feet wide, but this inner railing – the existing railing will remain intact on the outside – will reduce the deck width to 24 feet. The bridge itself is 855 feet in length strung out over 13 concrete piers and, at its highest point, you are 90 feet above the valley floor.
The fundraising campaign began last Friday (Feb. 24) and Lavoie advised they have already raised about 10 per cent of their target.
“We’ve broken our fundraising into two sections. The first two months, March and April, we are doing all local. And we’re going to businesses as well. And then starting in May, June and beyond, we have a partnership with Ontario Trails Council with 60,000 members across the province. And they have agreed to do fundraising for us. And that money can be used for things like plants and all the bits and pieces we’re going to need.”
Initially the hope is to sponsor 75 of the modules and that would cover out past the middle point of the bridge, said Lavoie.
“This will be a success if we do half the bridge this year and the other half next year. I’m feeling really confident we’ll meet our target. And that’s what we promised last year when we unveiled our management report. We’re going to have some version of the bridge, up to 50 per cent of it, open in 2017 for Canada’s 150.”
So what’s planned for the grand opening on Aug. 27?
“It will be our third annual elevated picnic. And that’s an opportunity to invite all of our donors, sponsors and supporters for the picnic. Have a big do Sunday and then starting Monday morning it will be open to the public free of charge forever after that. People don’t get it. They really don’t think it’s going to be free. They think somehow there’s government money in this thing.
“Not only are we not getting a cent out of the city, we actually pay property taxes to the city.”
That property tax will be in the range of $1,500 to $2,000 per year between St. Thomas and Southwold, Lavoie estimates.
Interest in the elevated park is growing quickly and Lavoie noted a variety of users have been in touch.
“We’ve had some interest from people who asked could we do some events up there, Tai chi in the morning or yoga in the evening. We’re serious about having that sort of stuff. In designing the bridge, we’ve created areas that are big meeting areas. So there are two of them in the design, about 24 feet wide and 100 feet long. It’s the perfect place if people want to go there and meet for a yoga class.”
What can visitors anticipate for the opening day picnic?
“By the August opening, all the work up to the middle of the bridge will be done. All the decking will be in place. All the railings will be in place. All the planters, trees and landscaping, all of that will be in place. Our intention is you don’t open this thing until all the elements are in place . . . We’ve got two confirmed sculptures that will go in this summer, so when we open we’ll have two sculptures in place. One will be 15 feet high and one will be 20 feet. So these are serious pieces of sculpture.”
Lavoie advised tickets for the opening picnic are scheduled to go on sale some time in March.