Memorial Park Association and City negotiating win-win to renovate Riverside landmark

Memorandum of Understanding next step

By Steve DiMattia
Resident Community News

When Riverside’s Memorial Park was dedicated Christmas Day 1924 to honor Florida’s fallen World War I veterans it was envisioned to be for the people. This was originally realized through Charles Adrian Pillars’ iconic memorial statue, Life, reinforced most recently with the 2011 installation of two bronze eagles, and clear by the park’s overall layout.
“The Olmsted Brothers deliberately designed the park so that you have to traverse through; there are no sidewalks on Riverside Avenue. They wanted people to experience the park. Keeping to that original vision is our mission,” said Pattie Houlihan, Memorial Park Association vice president.

To that end, the nonprofit association formed in 1986 to “preserve, restore and beautify Memorial Park” and began an Adopt-A-Park agreement with the city, which owns the land, a year later. MPA provided basic management, maintenance and physical improvements, such as tending flowerbeds, painting and litter control.
Now, the two entities are developing a legally binding Memorandum of Understanding agreement.

“The association has taken on a master plan and they want to do major fund raising for large scale capital improvement projects, which Adopt-A-Park doesn’t permit,” said Parks and Recreation Department spokesperson Pam Roman. “An MOU allows that and will also provide major City support of those fundraising options through things like letters from the mayor’s office and marketing. It does not include financial support.”

Roman said the agreement would delineate responsibilities, likely reducing project timelines by permitting MPA to hire contractors and complete tasks that now go through the City. Major construction will still need City approval, but the process will be expedited.

Once the two parties agree on terms, the MOU will then have to pass City Council, which takes a minimum six weeks.

Vinyls on the grounds of Memorial Park provide information and inspiration. Photo by Chad Bearden.

Vinyls on the grounds of Memorial Park provide information and inspiration. Photo by Chad Bearden.

“This is win-win for everyone if it moves forward, and I don’t see any reason it shouldn’t. Once it does, we want to put them [MPA] out there as an example for other parks,” Roman said.
MPA has already done some fundraising, including an Oktoberfest event sponsored by Intuition Ale Works that brought over 1,200 people to the park and raised $9,500.
That money, along with future fundraising, will go toward implementing the association’s Master Plan, developed by Georgia-based landscape architect David Sacks.
The plan focuses as much on long-term infrastructural renovations – such as bulkhead repair, park drainage and utility services – as it does on aesthetics, and it recommends certain sequencing considerations.
“We don’t want to do work that needs to be undone,” Houlihan said.

Sacks noted the plan offers some flexibility depending upon funding availability, but things such as relocating overhead utilities underground, repairing the bulkhead, and soil regeneration would likely precede fence replacement, signage improvements or wall repairs.

“They’re not just looking for the ‘sexy’ projects; they’re looking long-term toward restoring and preserving the original design,” Roman said.
Beyond the MOU, two new city-level changes will also help: restructuring within the parks department will provide dedicated managers to identify park-specific needs; and the mayor’s office has filed legislation easing ordinance requirements on special events organizers and vendors.

It all benefits preservation of the people’s park.

“[Memorial Park] is clearly a place that all sorts of people feel comfortable and welcomed in. It is the Olmsteds’ ideal realized. I am so glad that there is a dedicated group of people – in the MPA, COJ and elsewhere in the community – that ‘gets it’ and that wants to see the park enhanced in keeping with its original design,” Sacks said via email.
Diane LaFond Insetta, the sculptor who created the bronze eagles that flank the Life statue, echoed Sacks’ sentiment and reinforced MPA’s

“You’re not just an artist doing a statue, you’re serving a greater purpose for the park. The park is a memorial for those who watch over our freedom and it is so special to so many people; the continuity within families who return generation after generation is amazing. I am grateful to have been able to contribute even a small part.”
MemorialPark_02To learn about MPA or to view the Master Plan:

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