When Orlando city staff put out an open call for proposals for a new city park on a patch of green space in the Central Business District, they got loads of ideas – everything from a meditation space to a dog park.
The selection committee opted to go with something a bit more rock and roll, choosing a container park concept from Ascend Studios that creates a gathering space at a key downtown intersection and showcases the firm’s expertise in video installations.
Thomas Chatmon, executive director of Orlando’s Downtown Development Board, said the project has been in the works for about three years and coincides with the DTO master planning process and goal to deliver more public space within the CBD.
“Other cities had typically two to three times as much public open space,” he said. “And a lot of what we had in downtown was not conveniently located in the most walkable areas of downtown surrounding residential areas.”
Dr. Phillips Charities bought the nearly ¼-acre lot at the corner of North Orange Avenue and West Robinson Street, next to the Seacoast Bank tower, in 2016 and demolished the building on the site, leaving a blank space for something new. With the selection of Ascend’s Art² Park concept, the city hopes to create a vibrant atmosphere for visitors.
The park will feature a permanent food and beverage concept in the container section, as well as dedicated spaces for two food trucks. It will also serve as a venue for live performances and will feature giant video screen that would be elevated and angled so it could be visible from Orange Avenue. A second 19½-foot long, interactive LED video board would be at ground level, parallel to the bank building.
“This truly is going to be a gateway into the entertainment zone to come into downtown,” Chatmon said. “We’re going to have the digital gateway, and this is an opportunity to activate an area that was kind of devoid of pedestrian activity. There really was nothing happening in past years at that intersection, particularly on the west side.”
There will be a mix of covered seating and picnic tables on the patio and spread throughout the event lawn. There’s even a small deck with a couple of hammocks. One thing it’s not is a bar, partly out of sensitivity to St. James Catholic Church, which is right across the street.
“This is not going to be a watering hole,” Chatmon said. “Alcohol will be available a maximum of eight days per month, and that’s mostly for events that are being held there."
The initial plans also call for a pair of smaller video installations, but Chatmon said the city may have to re-think the touch screen elements because of COVID-19. A 12-foot tall gateway sign with digital screen messaging would be placed at a 45-degree angle right at the intersection.
“There’s quite a bit of digital presence in the park, and we really like the combination of the open air ambiance of it, the coffee shop component of it, the little area with the deck and hammocks,” he said. “There’s some unique features there that make it a really cool experience for people that allows you to finish work and kind of chill.”
Ascend Studios CEO Josh Almeida has created a separate company called Ascend Art Parks that would contract with the city to manage the park, secure the entertainment and operate the F&B and retail. While it’s a public space, it was designed with planters and other types of barriers to control access for private or ticketed events.
“The goal – my whole dream is to become the heartbeat of the city, and to give people this creative fun place to be,” Almeida said. The park will host movie nights, game nights, poetry slams, Sunday morning yoga and musical performances. Almeida said all of the audio visual and lighting elements will be permanent, weatherproof and interconnected to a master control system. “That makes is much more affordable for the performers,” he added.
The container building will also feature a store where customers can purchase work from local artists and flexible gallery space upstairs. “I wanted it to be a blank canvas that we transform every few months,” Almeida said. “We want people to be regulars, so in order to do that we have to change it.”
The Orlando City Council, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, already approved the concept and funding for the design work by GAI’s Community Solutions Group and Rhodes + Brito Architects. The project goes to the city’s Appearance Review Board in November, followed by final approval from the CRA for the $2 million to construct the park.
“When and if we are granted approval by CRA, we will look to go into construction in the second quarter of 2021,” he said.
Chatmon said the city would have a 10-year lease with Dr. Phillips Charities, with two renewal options.
Matthew Smith, SVP of MidAmerica Apartment Communities, is developing the 10-story apartment building right across Robinson Street on what used to be a parking lot for the Catholic church. He wasn’t aware of the plans for the container park but is excited by the renderings and thinks it will be a great amenity for his residents. The building should welcome its first residents in May.
“My reaction is it’s really cool,” he told GrowthSpotter. “Anything we can do to activate that area is great. It will bring new energy to that intersection.”