NORTH CENTER — North Center Town Square could soon have its own version of Millennium Park's "great lawn."
The lawn was among the options for the square presented Tuesday night by Port Urbanism, the firm that's been charged with designing a wholesale transformation of the neighborhood's underused public space, with the goal of creating a true year-round hub for residents.
Port Urbanism founding partner Andrew Moddrell walked neighbors through three scenarios, all of which addressed the square's deficits — most glaringly a complete lack of seating — and incorporated feedback from community members gathered following previous meetings.
The Port team approached the design with two basic assumptions, he said:
• Belle Plaine Avenue between Lincoln and Damen avenues will become part of the square.
"Right now, CDOT [the Chicago Department of Transportation] is very graciously allowing this to take over their street," Moddrell said.
• The existing "tree plaza" is something to be built around rather than wiped clean for a blank slate.
A late-breaking monkey wrench was thrown into this aspect when Port met with an arborist just prior to Tuesday's community meeting and learned that only a handful of the plaza's mature trees are healthy. The team will have to make allowances for this new wrinkle when developing the square's final design, Moddrell said.
Common elements across all three concepts include: a performance stage that can double as seating when not in use; moveable planters; more substantial fencing, with an artistic component, along the square's northern boundary; rubber play mounds (not a playground) for children; highly visible signage identifying the square; and lighting integrated into the base of seating benches.
Where the plans differ is in the way they deal with the square's biggest challenge: combining the plaza and street into a single cohesive square.
Belle Plaine, which terminates in a cul de sac at Damen, sits several inches below the tree plaza. To raise the cul de sac flush with the plaza would eat up the project's entire $600,000 budget, Moddrell said.
Port's solutions to this dilemma:
• In Scenario One, a pedestal floor system — picture pavers on risers — would transform the cul de sac into an extension of the plaza.
• In Scenario Two, a raised round lawn (artificial turf, not grass) would fill the eastern edge of the cul de sac but the rest of the street would remain sunken. A painted pattern would visually incorporate the street into the square.
• Scenario Three is a bit of a mash-up of the first two — with a pedestal lawn.
Each of the schemes would cost approximately $1 million and would need to be constructed in phases given the project's $600,000 budget.
"All of these can be mixed and matched and pared back," Moddrell said of the concepts. "We can shrink and grow to arrive at a suitable Phase One."
Overall reaction to the concepts was positive, with the majority of attendees in favor of the lawn, particularly some sort of combination of the second and third scenarios.
Concerns included the lack of a water feature and how to occupy the area in the winter.
Addressing the issue of the water feature, Moddrell explained, "They're just huge ticket items."
Fountains are highly regulated, requiring drainage and a mechanism for cleaning and recirculating the water, which would cost approximately $500,000 in infrastructure investments, he said.
"It's kind of the first thing that typically is phased, it doesn't end up being a Day One priority," Moddrell said.
Regarding winter uses, Port is exploring ways to install a temporary ice rink, either for skating or curling, he said.
The next step for Port is to gather feedback on the three scenarios: what people like, what they dislike, what would be essential to Phase One, what could be delayed, and what's missing.
The team will then narrow down the design to a single concept, which will be presented June 14.
"We'll still have option," Moddrell said of the next iteration. "We're not going to come next time with one fully baked take-it-or-leave-it thing."
Neighbors can share their thoughts about the designs with the 47th Ward office at firstname.lastname@example.org or the Northcenter Chamber of Commerce at email@example.com.
The cul de sac poses one of the biggest design challenges. Port has proposed various solutions. [Port Urbanism]