Belo Garden, Dallas’ newest urban park, opens to the public Thursday
Dallas Morning News – by David Flick
Friday May 4, 2012
After almost two years of work, Belo Garden will open to the public Thursday. It won’t truly be finished for decades.
“The grasses and perennials planted this spring will take another two years to fully grow in. It will take 10 years for the trees to look like they’re mature and about 50 years before they really are mature,” said Jacob Petersen, the park’s principal architect.
For decades after that, as tall shumard oaks spread over the park’s southeastern grove, their canopy is to be pruned to provide maximum beauty and shade.
“Think of this as a 100-year park,” Petersen said.
When the construction fence finally comes down this week, Belo Garden will become the second downtown park in the city’s 2004 master plan to become reality.
The first, Main Street Garden, opened in late 2009 and has functioned as a sort of urban backyard where residents of nearby apartments can socialize while dogs romp and children play.
Belo Garden is meant to serve a different function.
“The purpose is to be an oasis in an intense urban environment. It’s a garden where you can feel a sense of quiet,” said Robert W. Decherd, chairman of The Belo Foundation. “Cities have to have places that respond to the human need for trees and flowers and beauty. We don’t have enough of that in downtown Dallas.”
Money for design and construction of the $15 million park came from the foundation and Belo Corp. City bond money provided for the purchase and remediation of the 1.7-acre space, a former parking lot.
As part of the total investment in the park, the private foundation of Robert and Maureen Decherd has endowed $1 million toward future capital improvements and repairs.
Decherd is chairman, president and chief executive officer of A.H. Belo Corporation, parent of The Dallas Morning News, and also chairman of Belo Corp., a television broadcasting company whose properties include WFAA-TV (Channel 8). A.H. Belo Corporation was created in 2008 when Belo Corp. spun off its newspaper assets into a separate company.
How well the park gets used will be the ultimate measure of its success, Decherd said.
“A park is a part of the city that speaks to all of its citizens,” he said. “We want to see people down there at all times of the day, every day.”
Hardy native plants
From the beginning, Belo Garden was meant to appeal to three constituencies, said Mary Margaret Jones, senior principal at Hargreaves Associates, which designed the park.
“It was important to respond to all the people who work in offices near the park and to the more and more people who are living downtown,” Jones said. “It also needed to be a gateway for people who are visiting downtown.”
Most of Belo Garden is covered by sweeping beds of grasses and perennials, most of which are drought-tolerant native plants designed to change hue and texture with the seasons.
Unlike most parks, in which three quarters of the space is lawn, Belo Garden will be less than a quarter turf, Petersen said. It will not be the best place to throw a Frisbee to a dog.
The largest expanse of grass will be on the southwest side, but the area will be interspersed with trees, making it more suitable for picnics than touch football.
To the north, a carpet of zoysia grass will cover a 9-foot-high mound, the park’s most prominent feature.
The mound will overlook a broad plaza paved with hexagonal slabs of native red granite that mark the point where the park’s pathways converge. Embedded in the walkway will be 72 spray heads that create three arching fountains.
The mound and the plaza will serve dual purposes, Petersen said. On ordinary days, they will shut out the bustle of the city.
“The mound acts as a visual and audio screen against city traffic. The fountains create a calming white noise that separates you from the sounds of the city, and the water will have a cooling effect on the plaza on warm days,” Petersen said.
The north side of the mound can also function as a platform for viewing parades on Main Street. When the fountains are turned off, the plaza can double as a performance stage, with the south side of the mound providing amphitheater seating.
Office workers may become the most frequent users of the easternmost part of the park, which will also function as a pass-through between two mid-block crosswalks on Main and Commerce streets.
The area will have tables and chairs on a carpet of crushed granite.
Defining the eastern end will be a wall reaching up to 12 feet tall. Residents of the adjacent Metropolitan condominiums had concerns that it would block their access to the park, but park supporters argued, in part, that it was necessary to create a sense of serenity, and promised it would be clad on both sides in decorative granite.
The stone chosen is an Indian granite, one of the few nonnative materials in the park.
“We wanted a yellow stone that will nicely set off the leafy shadows of the trees,” Petersen said.
Petersen said the park, while not large enough to become an all-day draw in itself, will provide an additional destination for people visiting new amenities such as the Perot Museum of Nature and Science.
The main entrance at Main and Griffin Street is specifically designed as an invitation for downtown visitors to pause within the park.
“It will be hard to walk by and not be drawn into Belo Garden,” Petersen said.
The third of the planned downtown parks, Klyde Warren Park, will open on a deck over Woodall Rodgers Freeway in the autumn.
The fourth, Pacific Plaza, is still unfunded. Creation of another park, Carpenter Plaza, on the eastern edge of downtown, is under discussion.
Late last month, the city accepted a $150,000 donation from the Decherd Foundation and an additional $15,000 from Robert and Maureen Decherd to update the 2004 downtown parks master plan.
Supporters of the parks hope that, beyond improving the quality of local life, the green spaces will bring residents and economic vitality to downtown Dallas — and maybe spur developers to invest in good architecture.
“The hope is that eventually someone will build on the parking lot across Griffin Street, and that it will be a building that reflects the beauty of the park,” Petersen said.
“That may be 20 years from now, but 20 years in a city’s life is not all that long a time.”