City launches development of new master plan for Franklin Park

A new master plan for Franklin Park will begin to take shape this summer with a “robust community process,” according to city officials.

Last Friday, Mayor Martin Walsh announced that the Parks and Recreation Department has begun developing a new master plan for Franklin Park. Once the plan has been completed and approved, the department will implement a series of widescale improvements that will be funded from the $28 million payment the city received from the sale of the Winthrop Square Garage last fall.

According to a statement from the mayor’s office, the Parks Department will be working with the Franklin Park Coalition and Cambridge-based landscape architects Reed Hilderbrand on setting up a community outreach process to determine how best to use the allocated funds.

“I’m excited to celebrate the master plan of Franklin Park and the renovations that will help Franklin Park reach its full potential as Boston’s largest park, and one of our cherished green spaces,” said Walsh.

Parks and Recreation deputy commissioner Ryan Woods told the Reporter that the scope of the renovations will depend on community feedback, but they could include improvements to drainage and environmental infrastructure and modifications to structural elements like the Elma Lewis Playhouse and White Stadium.

“We’ll be starting a robust community process to figure out what needs the community wants to see, and what are things that need to be revamped or added,” said Woods. He added that the engagement could begin as soon as this summer, with a finalized master plan in shape sometime next year.

The department recently completed a six-year, $7.25 million project to improve pathways in and entrances to Franklin Park; the master plan will look to build upon momentum from that project, Woods said.

The Reed Hilderbrand firm was selected from a field of roughly 20 firms after a competitive bidding process in which their proposal resonated most strongly with Franklin Park Coalition leadership, said Woods.

Franklin Park Coalition executive director Janna Cohen-Rosenthal told the Reporter she was impressed by the design team’s plan for community engagement.

“In their presentation they had done a lot of thinking about outreach, making sure it’s equitable and that they get to hear a lot of voices,” said Cohen-Rosenthal. She added that the master plan and the injection of funding represent “a big opportunity to expand our programming,” noting a desire for more live music and theatre productions.

“We have a summer concert series at Elma Lewis Playhouse, and we would love to do more but the facilities in the park--because of staging and electrical infrastructure--don’t support having lots of concerts,” she explained. “With a permanent performance area, we could do a lot more cultural programming.”

Elsewhere in the park, opportunities exist to improve signage and path maintenance in the park’s 65-acre wilderness and restore its status as a hiking destination, said Cohen-Rosenthal.

Reed Hilderbrand will collaborate with Agency Landscape and Planning of Cambridge and MASS Design Group of Boston. Together, they will work to develop a new vision for the park, which was designed by the famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted in the 1890s and named after Benjamin Franklin.

This is “an exhilarating and humbling commission,” said John Kett, principal and lead designer for Reed Hilderbrand. “We recognize the beauty of the landscape Olmsted found and carefully reshaped for public enjoyment, and we appreciate the important role it has played in the lives of city residents for past generations. We are eager to serve the communities who spend their mornings, afternoons, evenings, and weekends here. We are committed to envisioning a sustainable and equitable Franklin Park that contributes to a prosperous and vibrant Boston for future generations.”

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