“We would want to sod the whole area, right now, with grass,” Mayor Pro Tem Chris Harris said. “That way, it’s usable early spring, and then, we have time to kind of design.”
The landscaping, set to be performed by local company Earth First, was one of multiple elements of the project delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, coordination with utility companies and uncooperative weather conditions. City Council members voted to move forward with the landscaping in order to prevent future delays.
“This project has been going on for quite some time and has had many different challenges along the way,” engineer Chris LeBlanc said. “Unfortunately, COVID and the constraints of COVID during the last calendar year caused us to arrive at a project where we had to ask ourselves last year, ‘Well, how can we move this project forward and make the space usable while we continue to try to work towards the ultimate vision?’”
One element contributing to the delays was the relocation of an existing Centerpoint service pole; Harris said coordinating with Centerpoint required time and effort.
“Unfortunately, they just don't move that fast,” LeBlanc said. “It caused for us to have a delay on our project because the underground power that serves the Civic Center was in conflict with one of the foundations for our trellis. That is part of the hardscape project that would be at the back of the Civic Center, so that has delayed the concrete placement and is the reason why that project is not further along. But all those things have been rectified, so now, we are ready to re-mobilize and continue on with the construction, and we’re pretty confident at this point that there shouldn't be any further delays.”
The vote to move forward with the landscaping would allow for the area to become usable while the city moves forward with the architectural design and funding process, LeBlanc said.
“We've got some street trees,” LeBlanc said. “We've got, I believe, three dedication trees that were important to get in the ground. And in general, what we've got is some cleanup of the existing Harvest Plaza area—as well as what we originally concepted. ... So it makes it a usable park space in the short term while we continue to raise money, essentially, through the various funding sources that we have for the project to move along.”
City Council also discussed potential avenues, such as Survey Monkey or a public comment email address dedicated to the plaza, as a means to get public feedback regarding further designing the space once the landscaping is finished.
Mayor Pro Tem Chris Harris said the project’s unpredictable timeline taught him a valuable lesson.
“This project has taught me never to give dates to the public when something will be done,” Harris said. “I'm not going to be negative, but I'm just going to say: It's real unfortunate how this is all played out. Downtown businesses don’t like looking at something under construction for four years.”