Royal Oak selects designer for new downtown park

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published May 21, 2019

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ROYAL OAK — On May 13, the Royal Oak City Commission authorized Detroit-based landscape architect MKSK to design the city’s new 2-acre downtown park, to be located where the current City Hall and Police Department now stand.

Commissioner Patricia Paruch, who also chairs the Downtown Park Task Force, said the city received five “very strong” proposals, but MKSK’s stood out from the pack.

“They have offices not only here in Detroit, but also Kentucky and Ohio and the Midwest, and have done a number of projects on this scale. We were impressed with their presentation,” Paruch said. “They just seem to get Royal Oak a little bit better than the other four, so we think it’s going to be a very positive project moving forward.”

Over the last four months, more than 1,500 people weighed in on the look and feel of the park, which has a budget of approximately $5 million. The goal is to break ground on the park in 2020.

Park consultants met with stakeholders and residents, held listening sessions at five locations around the downtown, conducted visual preference surveys and solicited online input.

The park is part of a $110 million civic center project, which includes a new City Hall, a new Police Department, a six-story Henry Ford Health Services medical outpatient center and a 581-space parking lot, which is set to open in June.

The proposed cost given by MKSK to construct the park is $4.5 million, but MKSK Principal in Charge Andy Knight said that the cost could range anywhere from $3 million to $5 million.

“The next step is to direct staff to actually negotiate a solid contract with MKSK for the design of the downtown park, and that contract will come back to us,” Paruch said.

After viewing the Downtown Park Task Force’s interviews with the potential landscape architects, Commissioner Melanie Macey said she was thrilled with their recommendation of MKSK.

“We had a lot of community engagement already … and it’s a clear vision, but also sometimes incongruous, like we want it to be very secluded and also wide open, and we want it to be very active but at the same time be quiet,” Macey said. “I just thought that the MKSK presentation had a beautiful vision for ways we could make that happen.”

Commissioner Kyle DuBuc, who also serves on the task force, agreed, saying that he thought MKSK was the applicant “most likely to thread that needle that’s been described by ourselves and the residents.”

The community engagement process concluded that the park needed flexible, open space for visitors of all ages; ecological elements such as water, trees, greenery and flowers; different scales of light; high-caliber art, promoting local artists; natural and artificial elements, using form and function to create style; physical and mental contemplation; features to draw people during all seasons; cleanliness and safety; and its own voice.

Knight said MKSK opened its Detroit office about two years ago, and several of its key staff have close ties to Royal Oak, so the firm has been keeping a finger on the pulse of the area.

“When this project came out, it really piqued our interest,” he said. “The way the RFP was written, it’s a great intersection between people and place with the desire to be very sustainable and maintain a relationship to the downtown area, which is very vibrant with a lot of pedestrians.”

He said MKSK plans to incorporate community feedback to deliver the city’s vision of “developing a world-class urban park,” with an emphasis on green space and incorporating historical elements of the city, such as the tree for which it is named and Native American trails.

“Each of our projects is really a one-off,” Knight said. “Royal Oak will certainly be a unique park in itself, and we’re really excited (to embark on the development process).”

Commissioner Randy LeVasseur cast the single “nay” vote. He said he would have liked to have seen a one-page summary of the proposals and price points to compare them.

For more information, visit www.rethinkro.com or call Royal Oak City Hall at (248) 246-3000.

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