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A new plan by a group of local business owners to bring a synthetic ice rink, pickleball courts, musical swings, a new fountain with lighting and other amenities to the Griswold Park area in the 100 block of West 14th Street “is just the kind of private investment we’ve been looking for” in that section of the city, said John Buchna, the Erie Downtown Partnership’s executive director.
But city of Erie officials said many details still need to be worked out before work can begin at the city-owned park.
Both Buchna and Erie Mayor Joe Schember’s administration are interested in Great Lakes Insurance Services Group LLC’s plan to significantly upgrade Griswold Park.
“These are businesses really investing in the downtown community,” Buchna said. “Part of that investment is giving people things to do and ways to be active. And we want to enjoy these assets. It’s all good and shows more investment is coming into downtown.”
The project was announced by Great Lakes Insurance Services owner Pete Zaphiris last week. One business located near the park, Logistics Plus, has pledged $100,000 toward the project, and is asking other community businesses to contribute as well.
However, Renee Lamis, Schember’s chief of staff, pointed out that a number of details would have to be finalized before any work could begin at the park — including a written memorandum of understanding between the business owners and the city.
Such a document would lay out the mutually-accepted expectations of all of the parties involved.
“Nothing has been finalized and this isn’t a done deal,” Lamis said.
“I want to be clear: we are open to the idea of them pursuing this,” Lamis said. “But there are a lot of details that would have to be worked out. We are impressed though by their enthusiasm and we appreciate their willingness to adopt the park and put their own money and effort into this plan.”
Zaphiris said other businesses involved include Rick Griffith Properties, Kellar’s: A Modern Magic & Comedy Club, Erie News Now, Sisinni Legal, Urban Engineers and The Brewerie At Union Station.
The park improvements would also include a splash pad with LED lighting and a statue of legendary magician Harry Kellar, who was born in Erie in 1849 and was a friend and mentor of Harry Houdini.
Many details to work out
Zaphiris said he plans to cover much of the construction costs for the project and that the group hopes to break ground as soon as mid-July. An estimated project cost was not available.
Lamis said that city officials began talking to the business owners in April about possible improvements.
She said that Schember administration officials will likely meet with members of Erie City Council soon to discuss the park improvements.
“We need to figure out whose insurance covers what at the park, who maintains it, who is responsible for what other things,” Lamis said. “The park is a public asset. It’s just a process we would have to go through.”
The business owners’ plan also suggests that the park be renamed Station Square Ltd., but Lamis pointed out that city parks are named by ordinance. Any name change would require City Council’s approval, she said.
Buchna said the project aligns with the Downtown Partnership’s long-range master plan for downtown improvements.
From 2019: A collective vision to improve downtown Erie
The long-range plan
Unveiled in 2016, that plan’s recommendations include creating and linking four distinct downtown districts, each with its own character, function, target markets and design.
It also suggests various improvements to the physical environment downtown, as well as housing upgrades; economic development involving the arts, offices, technology and tourism; transportation improvements, and more aggressive marketing of downtown.
The Downtown Partnership is a nonprofit that serves a 70-block area from Sassafras to Holland Streets, between the bayfront and 14th Street. Griswold Park is included in that footprint.
“When we were creating that plan, the whole foundation of the district concept included having business and property owners come together to want to be part of making improvements,” Buchna said. “People investing their money and time to improve public spaces. Griswold Park is an opportunity for us to build that out, and the community benefits.”
City Councilwoman Kathy Schaaf said she would like to see “the people of the area” involved in any conversations about what happens at Griswold Park. That would include nearby residents and business owners.
“I’m all for improvements and more involvement, but I would like to know more,” Schaaf said.
Griswold Park’s last significant upgrade came in 2009, when then-mayor Joe Sinnott’s administration completed a $700,000 westward expansion of the park.
Those improvements included a fountain; the removal of some trees and planting of new ones; wider sidewalks; new lighting; and decorative pillars and iron railings.
For more information about the plan for Griswold Park, visit eriess.com.