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Downtown park atop Interstate 10 tunnel slated for major upgrades

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PHOENIX – Pointing out homeless people, litter and weathered and graffiti-covered signs, Brian Owens said he can see why the city wants to renovate Margaret T. Hance Park.

“The sense of community is not here. Parents can’t bring their kids,” said Owens, who visited the park on a recent weekday.

The park, covering 32 acres atop the tunnel where Interstate 10 crosses under Third Avenue through Third Street, would get an amphitheater, more shade, additional parking and other upgrades under a draft design presented recently to the City Council.

“The hope is that the park’s revisioning and redesign over the next several years will serve as a catalyst for the resurgence and development of downtown Phoenix,” said David Urbinato, public information officer for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

“When a park starts to get used more you have that feeling of security, safety and ownership,” Urbinato said. “Revisioning the park is a great step towards moving that along.”

Named after the city’s female mayor, who served from 1976 to 1983, the park opened in 1992 without the amphitheater, additional parking, additional restrooms and other amenities proposed in the original master plan.

Among its existing offerings, Hance Park is home to a dog park, picnic area, playground and sand volleyball court as well as the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix and the Irish Cultural Center.

Design plans for the update, presented to the council in mid-November, also include include water features, a splash pad, exercise track and establishments offering food and coffee.

“Very few cities have that much open space in the center of town, so people are excited about the potential of what it could be,” said Tom Byrne, a landscape architect for the city.

Zachariah Dugger, a park visitor, was happy to hear that the plans call for more bathrooms and for making the facilities safer, cleaner and available during more of the day. Restrooms on the east side of the park are usually locked except for special events.

“It would be nice if they could fix the restrooms; they’re so dirty,” he said.

City officials and consultants used input from nine stakeholder workshops to create the initial plan. Over the next six months, the design team will refine the plan based on public input.

Robert Diehl, executive vice president of the Hance Park Conservancy and a resident of the Roosevelt Historic District neighborhood, was among those who provided input on the initial plan.

“I’m fully convinced the new plan will accommodate the deck park in a way that is very attractive and engaging to neighborhoods close by,” he said.

Diehl said area residents are eager for the upgrade to address tunnels connecting to the park’s western edge beneath Third and Fifth avenues.

“For 23 years, hardly anyone has used it except for people conducting illegal activity,” he said.

Owens said offering more at the park would encourage people to make use of it.

“I think the amphitheater idea sounds exciting. I would want to come if they had something going on,” he said.