a Downtown Jackson landmark is slated to reopen next week.
The grand re-opening for Smith Park is Friday, April 13, at 11 a.m.
The event will feature music, food trucks and a brief ceremony commemorating the completion of a major round of improvements at the facility.
Construction on the second phase of improvements wrapped up recently, but large fences closing the park off to the public are expected to remain in place until the reopening.
John Ditto, a Northsider and member of Friends of Smith Park, said the wait will be well worth it. ‘it’s 100 percent better than what it looked like,” he said. “it feels so much larger than it did previously because all of the spaces that were cut off by the water feature are now reclaimed.
“The park is much more useable for public events.” Renovations on the second phase got under way in November. The main work included removing the park’s water feature and re-sodding the area. Other components included replacing the wood on the stage deck and on all the benches, Ditto said.
The park’s water feature was installed in the 1970s and designed to resemble a river meandering through the park from East Amite Street to North Congress Street.
However, the feature had been inoperable for years because of high upkeep costs. What was designed as a river had turned into a concrete ditch, lined with trash, leaves and other debris.
Smith Park is located in a one-block area bordered by East Amite, North Congress Street, North West Street and Yazoo Street.
It was included in the city’s initial grid system, decades before the Civil War. The grids were based on the layout of Savannah, Ga., and included a number of public green spaces.
The park has been designated a Mississippi Landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Renovation plans for the park had to be approved by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH).
“Smith Park is the last remaining portion of the (development plan put in place) when Jackson was developed,” MDAH Historic Preservation Director Jim Woodrick told the Sun previously.
Doc Martin was hired as the contractor. Dave Fulgham, a tree preservationist, was brought on to ensure that none of the park’s trees were harmed during construction.
The second phase cost approximately $100,000.
The park is patrolled by Downtown Jackson Partners (DJP) and city police.
The next round of improvements are expected to cost around $2.5 million.
For three years, the city sought $2.5 million in funding from the state to sponsor what was being called the “Smith Park Renaissance.” This year, local leaders again asked for $1 million in state funding for the next phase.
Plans were to have the park restored in time for the state’s bicentennial and the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and Mississippi History Museum.
Funding for the work was included in the legislature’s end-of-the-session bond bill four times in the last five years, and four times it has been taken out.
The next phase would include opening up the park with a large, central green space with new sidewalks. New concrete seating would be added, as well a new pavilion.
Plans were drawn up by Madge Bemiss, of Richmond, Va., Bemiss is the same landscape architect that designed the Art Garden at the Mississippi Museum of Art.
Ditto said leaders could kick into fund-raising soon, but first need to enjoy the completion of the second phase.
Said Ditto: “I think the next step is to continue the fund-raising effort, so we can realize the final vision, (but) we need to take a breath and enjoy the park as it is.”