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Final concept culled from original 3 designs

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FARMINGTON — Farmington residents interested in providing feedback on the options for a so-called "iconic" park development will have the chance to do so until March 19 via an online survey.

A second-generation park concept culled from the more popular elements of three initial park concepts has been developed and is available to view online at http://fmtn.org/820/Iconic-Park-Concepts. The link also leads to the survey.

The proposed park would be located adjacent to the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park at 3041 E. Main St., extending from the museum's paved parked lot to the intersection of Main Street and East 20th Street, according to Cory Styron, director of the city's Outdoor Recreation Industry Initiative. It includes all the land extending to the Animas River. Styron said the plot is approximately 5 acres in size and is owned by the city.

City officials organized a series of public meetings in November to solicit input on the three original designs. Styron said each of those meetings attracted a crowd of 15 to 20 people, and the comments and preferences expressed by those residents helped shape the new, final concept.

"People liked pieces of each one, but not one of the original three was overwhelmingly supported," he said, explaining why the city opted to develop a fourth design that incorporates elements of those designs rather than advancing one of the first three in its entirety.

Styron described those meetings as a chance for residents to "look at, poke holes in and visualize" the three different spaces. City officials chose that approach instead of conducting an online survey because they believed it was a more efficient way of accumulating feedback, given the breadth of options being presented at that stage.

While the details of the project are still being worked out, city officials envision the park becoming the centerpiece of Farmington's effort to rebrand itself as an outdoors destination. The space would serve as the crown jewel of the city's parks system, becoming a destination not just for local residents, but for out-of-towners intent on taking advantage of the area's natural recreational offerings.

City officials repeatedly have used the term "iconic" to describe the park's envisioned status. Styron credited Mayor Nate Duckett with coining that description.

"He's the one that wanted something in town where residents and visitors would see something and think, 'This is the epitome of Farmington,'" Styron said.

The idea, he said, is to create a local equivalent to parks around the country that have become synonymous with the city in which they are located, such as Millennium Park in Chicago, Central Park in New York, Boston Common in Boston and Centennial Park in Atlanta.

"Those communities have these places that help define their community," Styron said.

In practical terms, that means Farmington officials would like to create a green space that is not just another park, but something special — one that is pleasing to the eye, home to unique amenities and the anchor point of a trails system that stretches across the city.

Styron said over the course of his career, he has had the opportunity to visit several of those parks in other cities, and he's been impressed with what he's seen. He said one of the more important elements in each of those parks was the presence of a unique piece of public art that he labeled "a selfie destination" — a striking visual attraction where people enjoyed having their photo taken.

The location of the planned park in Farmington provides the city with an opportunity many such "signature" parks lack, Styron said.

"We have an advantage here with this being an extension of the museum. There's an opportunity here to do additional education … ," he said, referring to the possibilities of having extensive botanical gardens or exhibits that celebrate regional pollinators.

More: Residents express concern about trails expansion, safety

The online survey consists of eight questions, ranging from the open ended — what respondents like or dislike about the fourth design and what suggestions they have — to the specific. Respondents are asked to rank their preference for several special elements that might be included in the park, along with their preference for what kind of construction materials are used and what kind of design style they prefer — rustic, urban, classic or a combination. They also are asked what the word iconic means to them.

City officials will take the online feedback and refine the final concept one more time before they present it to the City Council for its blessing. If no major changes are proffered at that stage, the project would go into the strategic planning phase, with a funding mechanism identified and concrete plans being drawn up. It's unlikely construction would begin before 2021, he said.

Styron said he expected to have the final concept to the council within six to eight weeks. It's too early in the process to develop a project budget, but Styron said city officials should have a rough idea of what it will cost by the time the project enters the strategic planning phase.

He said a possible funding source for the park would be the recently adopted community transformation economic development fund. The fund collects money from a one-quarter of 1 percent gross receipts tax increase passed by the council in August. A one-time outlay from that fund could be used as part of a multiyear bond package, with the proceeds used to help construct the park, he said, and no additional taxation would be required.

The project's location — currently a barren, rock-strewn lot — is highly visible, and construction of the park could go a long way toward improving Farmington's self-image and economic outlook, Styron said.

"I think it would really give some pride to our community," he said. "Hopefully, people would see that public investment and think about making additional private investment."

There's a strong possibility one would follow the other, he said, citing the example of how sizable public works projects in other cities have spawned economic revivals in struggling districts.

More: Farmington claims it has the first outdoor recreation industry department in New Mexico

"There are already people that are interested in what the city's doing," he said. "There are several developers and owners of existing businesses in the area talking about doing some things to make additional investments in the area."

Styron hopes the project winds up developing a synergy with the planned renovation of downtown slated to begin later this year.

"There are so many people who want to see communities invest in themselves," he said. "But we're really in the early stage of things."

Eventually, Farmington could have several attractive community gathering spots, each of which would attract its own constituency, he said.

"What we're doing is creating different places in our community for people to congregate and connect," he said.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610.

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