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Garrison Commons designed as an open-air gathering space

Garrison Commons designed as an open-air gathering space

913 Garrison Avenue is sthe site of the pocket park to be called Garrison Commons. The park's design frame a mural created by the artist Vhils during last year's Unexpected Festival. 

Deft and minimal design change an empty lot to a pocket park

The fortunes of 913 Garrison had bottomed out when a fire destroyed the building and a diner at the address in 2011. For almost five years, the lot was nothing more than a cleared lot until the artist Vhils created an enormous portrait sculpted on the enormous wall at its rear as a project of the Unexpected Festival of 2015.

In June, it will become a “pocket park” that frames the Vhils mural attractively and provides an inviting urban gathering place.

Studio 6 Architects took the challenge of designing a low-key solution that created unobtrusive improvements to create a space that could include an outdoor dining area, grass, a small stage and outdoor screening area.

“The whole point of the park is to capitalize on the Unexpected mural,” said Scott Hathaway, a Studio 6 architect. He called the park a “gentle” solution. “What we’ve done is try to create something simple but usable with some lawn areas for outdoor events and then the idea of a food truck area for people to enjoy during the day. What we don’t want to do is detract from the mural.”

Landscaping will create a visual boundary without competing for attention, he said.

“The artist does not want the wall lit, so we honored that,” said John McIntosh, spokesman for 64/6 Downtown, a partner in the park project and Unexpected Festival.

“We will highlight the east wall with some small landscape lights and some small string lights on the east side,” Hathaway said. There will be just enough soft light for the right atmosphere.

It will be near a popular new tea and coffee shop, the new William O. Darby monument at Cisterna Park and, undoubtedly, a workday attraction for the employees of Propak Inc. working in the recently renovated Friedman-Mincer building at Texas Corner and other nearby businesses. The park will have free WiFi access.

In the evenings, McIntosh said a food truck vendor will be open for dinner and the park will be available for reserved or public use. A local food truck operator will soon be announced. The design work includes utilities and an off-street hard surface for the food truck. “There’s a low stage that would be suitable for music,” he said.

Hathaway explained that ABF kindly provided a metal storage pod for the rear of the park that will also be used as a projection platform.

“We’re going to put a projector on top of the pod to project to a temporary screen on the east wall, he explained. Free movie nights will be another attraction to the park in warm weather.

The minimal design will not prevent any eventual construction on the site, Hathaway said. “The other thing Steve Clark (of Propak Inc., a donor to the park)?was conscious about is that we don’t own the park,” Hathaway said. “We didn’t want to do anything permanent in nature. Ideally, we’d like to see the facade built back and infill construction there to continue the Garrison Avenue facade. We wanted to be sensitive to that but also capitalize on spaces to use to make downtown a little bit better.”

Plans are to open Garrison Commons in June, if weather permits the construction to proceed on schedule, McIntosh said.

This is the first urban public park project for the architectural firm Studio 6, which is headquartered nearby in newly renovated space on the opposite side of Garrison. Under this name, it is the continuation of the Fort Smith firm most recently called Guest Reddick, which will be 100 years old in 2019 and ­has always occupied offices downtown.

Partners in the Garrison Commons park include Studio 6 Architects, Propak Corp., Frank Sharum Landscape & Design, Forsgren Inc., King Irrigation & Lighting, American Precision Fabricators, OG&E Energy Corp., ABF UPack, C&D Electric, Pinnacle Communications & Maxey Signs.

This article appears in the May 2016 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith magazine.

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Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine, Online