Persip Park at the corner of North Street and Columbus Avenue is getting a complete renovation.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Two pedestrian park spaces on either side of downtown's central intersection will be overhauled this spring.
The city presented the plans to renovate Persip and Sottile Parks on North Street on Wednesday.
"At Persip, we're basically rebuilding everything, whereas Sottile is more of a repair & restore what's there now project with a few changes," Jeff Fassler, president of landscape architecture for Vanasse, Hange, Brustlin, said.
The architect said the focal goals of the design for the larger plaza, Persip, had been to create safe and easy to maintain space that would accommodate multiple uses.
In particular, this parcel at the corner of North Street and Columbus Avenue, will have more emphasis on opportunities for performance and visual art, a nod to the city's increased cultural scene in recent years.
Prominently featured on the south side of the square will be an elevated stage area approximately two feet tall, behind which will be a sloped, accessible walkway and some trellis cover — similar to what is in place across the street at Sottile.
A long granite wall with seating built in, along with concrete teardrop-shaped planters will fill out much of the rest of the circumference of the space, something the architect hopes will be countered and softened by additional trees, plantings and small grassy lawn spaces in the center of the square.
This year marks the 40th birthday of Persip, and the thirtieth for its smaller neighbor.
Persip Park was initially known as Liberty Plaza, and debuted by the Housing Authority amidst redevelopment of North Street in 1974. It was widely criticized as flawed at that time and continued improvements were made over the course of the rest of the decade.
In 1984, it was spruced up further, and dedicated to the Persip family. Alfred K. Persip (1895-1983) was the first African American in Berkshire County to enlist at the start of World War I, followed by his brothers John Persip and Charles, for whom the American Legion Post 68 on Wendell Avenue is named.
It has been adopted over the years by various volunteer auspices, most recently the nearby AdLib Center that maintained it for a few years beginning in 2006 and Pittsfield Beautiful, which is involved in beautification efforts throughout the city.
Across the street, Sottile Park was also launched in the spring of 1984, a joint effort by the city and the Berkshire Eagle. The trapezoidal, trellised plaza was designed by Pittsfield architect Terry Hallock, and dedicated to Anthony W. Sottile, who served 24 years as city auditor under four different mayors.
Even before the plaza area was constructed, the city indicated it would not be able to maintain it, blaming budgetary restraints because of the then recently enacted Proposition 2 1/2, and the adjacent newspaper adopted it for a number of years. John Sottile now oversees its upkeep regularly.
The park was built in 1974 and dedicated to the Persip family.
On Wednesday, representatives of downtown business interests, Pittsfield Beautiful, the Commission on Disabilities, and members of both the Persip and Sottile families, asked for some revisions to the unveiled plans.
Some questioned the difficulty of maintaining these areas, along with concerns some of the design elements might exacerbate problematic social behaviors already seen in the parks.
"It just seems like a lot of effort for a small space," Peter Lafayette, a Downtown Pittsfield Inc. board member, said of the problem of mowing the grassy patches. "I don't know if that can be looked at more."
John David Sottile criticized numerous aspects of the plans for both plazas, suggesting no design changes would improve these areas without a commitment by the city to maintaining and policing them.
"You're inviting sleeping ... You envision that maybe somebody is going to spread a little plaid blanket, and have a lunch, but some grisly old guy is going to fall asleep there drunk with his mouth open," Sottile said. "You may as well bulletproof the thing now, because it's just going to get ruined, and it's not going to work for what it is."
"These corners are extremely windy," he added. "You are just setting yourself up for lots of trash, and the city does not have a very good policy of enforcement on littering."
In addition to litter and plant care issues in the summer, several attendees urged that there be a plan for keeping the plazas, particularly the larger Persip space by the bus station, clear and safe in the winter.
"It is slippery as heck there in the winter months," said Claudine Chavanne, president of Pittsfield Beautiful, advocating a surface that would be less slick than the current one for pedestrian use.
Steven Valenti, whose clothing store has operated next door to Persip Park for three decades, agreed saying the park is well utilized even in the winter months.
"It gets extremely slippery," he said.
Fassler said that while the designs are essentially completed, there may room to refine some minor aspects of the plazas to take into consideration some of the questions raised at the hearing.
"We and the city want this to be a good final project," said Fassler in response to suggestions. "As always there's a longer shopping list than there is money in the budget."
The planned renovations of the park will take place this spring, out of the city's capital budget.
"You can see the design challenge that we have," said Commissioner of Public Works Bruce Collingwood.
Community Development Director Douglas Clark said, "we're not going to be able to make everyone happy."
"It's a public place, it's an open space, there are going to be a variety of different users," he said "And we're trying to take into account all of the design challenges that are sometimes at cross purposes, and try to do a good job to accommodate everyone as best we can.