Landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh, whose Brooklyn firm has designed prominent parks across America, has been chosen to redesign LaSalle Park.
The view from the Buffalo waterfront park excites him.
"This park has the most amazing view of the water of any project I've ever worked on," Van Valkenburgh said. "It's breathtaking."
The firm's projects include Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City, Maggie Daley Park in Chicago, Allegheny Riverfront Park in Pittsburgh, the Lower Don Lands in Toronto and the Monk’s Garden at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. His firm is also on the design team for the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago’s Jackson Park.
On Tuesday, the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation and partners will officially announce that Michael Van Valkenburgh and Associates will redesign LaSalle Park through a public process that began over the summer.
It's part of a $50 million initiative the Wilson Foundation announced in September. The foundation also committed $50 million to complete a regional trail system in Western New York.
Van Valkenburgh, who visited LaSalle Park in the summer, said the park will continue to promote recreation. He suggested strengthening the park's connection to the water and the water's edge, possibly with the addition of a beach.
Another bridge extending over the Niagara Thruway to connect the park to nearby neighborhoods is also a possibility, Van Valkenburgh said.
Other ideas include creating high points at the park to create better views of the water and park as well as taking noise abatement measures to block out some of the highway sounds, Van Valkenburgh said.
"This park is obviously an important place for Buffalonians, and there will be significant public engagement and presentation of design ideas for feedback, as well as just talking to people generally about what they hope for," he said.
"I think we can turn the park into something that is going to be a magnet," Van Valkenburgh said. "We are incredibly pleased to be asked to work on it."
The architecture firm was also chosen by the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy, with the foundation's support, for the $50 million redesign of West RiverFront Park in Detroit.
A completion date for the Buffalo park has not been announced yet, but the process is expected to take three to four years.
LaSalle Park will be renamed Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park. The Buffalo Common Council is expected to approve the name change in coming months.
"There is genuine excitement between the Wilson Foundation, the city, UB Regional Institute and the Imagine LaSalle Focus Group to select Michael and his team to design the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park, based on continued community engagement and the history and culture around the park," said J.J. Tighe, who directs the foundation's parks and trails initiative.
A series of community focus group meetings will be convened in the next several months, Tighe said. Meetings with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper and other stakeholders, as well as city and county officials, will also be held.
"The current goal is to have a conceptual design and physical model for public presentation by May 2019," Tighe said.
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