As Pack Square Park takes shape, Conservancy begins to change focus

The director of the group overseeing the $20 million makeover of Asheville’s high-profile center-city park is planning to step aside.

Park circle: Donna Clark, at right, the spokeswoman for the nonprofit Pack Square Conservancy, says the work on the new Pack Square Park is taking shape week by week. She’s standing next to what will be an interactive water fountain that will contain shooting jets of water and LED lighting. Photo By Jason Sandford

Marilyn Geiselman, who was hired as the Pack Square Conservancy’s first staff member in 2002 and has served as executive director since 2007, plans to move into more of a consulting role as the group begins to shift its focus from construction of the park to programming the public space.

“My experience is much more on the project side of things,” Geiselman told Xpress last week. “It’s a good time for the transition.”

Geiselman said she’s looking forward to staying involved in seeing through details of the park construction, but believes a new executive director needs to focus on long-range planning and park programming. That programming will be done hand-in-hand with the city Parks and Recreation Department, and will supplement existing activities and festivals, she said.

“One thing we know from studying other parks is that active parks are healthy parks, so we want to help fill the gaps in the city’s programming to offer year-round activity of all kinds: educational, cultural, recreational—and likely on a smaller scale than the festival-size events that that space has typically seen,” she said.

The conservancy board, in a retreat meeting Sept. 3, agreed to have Geiselman move into a different role and begin the search for a new executive director, she said.

Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners created the nonprofit conservancy to oversee the construction of the new Pack Square Park, which extends from the front steps of City Hall and the county courthouse up to the center of Pack Square.

Valley Crest Landscape Development was awarded a $7.5 million contract earlier this year to perform one of the final major phases of the 6.5-acre park’s remodeling, which includes a performance stage, water features and landscaping. The construction is scheduled to be complete in September 2009.

Since construction started three years ago, the project has seen a number of delays and an escalating budget. But now things are moving right along, says Mark Durbin, the owner’s representative for the Pack Square Conservancy. “We’ve got some subtle changes here and there, but overall it’s going really well.”

Here’s a look at other developments in the park:

• A large half-circle sign made of concrete and granite, and featuring metal lettering, is taking shape in the northeast corner of the park site in front of the Buncombe County Courthouse. “That’s our first sign that’s starting to come out of the ground,” Durbin says. “That will be the first real item that people will see.” The new veteran’s memorial will be nearby.

• A number of trenches have been dug and footings have been poured for the main stage running in front of the Buncombe County Courthouse and Asheville City Hall, as well as for a pergola behind the stage.

• Work continues on a water fountain that will feature LED lighting and jets of water shooting upward.

• Progress Energy is finishing up work it’s been doing on an electrical vault in the middle of the park. Once crews are done, the site will be stabilized and readied for the construction of a pavilion, which should begin in October.

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