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No one said the word "homeless" during the Boise City Council work session on Feb. 10, when the Department of Parks and Recreation gave City Council members a presentation on major renovations to take place at Rhodes Park.
Rhodes Park, which is on Front Street between 15th Street and Americana Boulevard, is below the same overpass where a large number of displaced people spend their days and nights. The sidewalks and spaces on either side of the park are covered with a collection of mattresses, blankets, milk crates, plastic bottles and bags, clothes, bikes and even a Christmas tree.
According to a presentation by Department of Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway and landscape designer Christine Harrington, that will all be replaced with a new skatepark and parkour obstacle course by late summer.
"In the vision of this park, we wanted to create an active, vibrant, family-friendly park," Harrington told the City Council. "Given its location and the parameters, it's going to take some creativity to find the opportunities in this park."
Harrington works for Seattle-based architecture and landscape design firm GGLO, LLC. She presented slide after slide of conceptual designs for the new skatepark, which is being funded with $1.25 million from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation and $138,000 from the city to dramatically re-landscape the area.
Harrington's slides featured public art opportunities, integrated LED lighting, native plants, stormwater-collecting planters, local stone and solar panels. She said her designs take inspiration from the American car culture of the 1950s and " the idea of individuality and exploration and the American spirit."
"[The park] really needs to be lightened up and made more cheerful and exciting," Harrington said.
Skateboarders have dreamed of having a better skatepark in the City of Trees for a long time. The 1.28-acre Rhodes Park opened in 1994 but today cracks spread across the concrete surfaces and rusting metal ramps dot the area, which has become a gathering place for large groups of the city's homeless population.
In December 2014, Paul Whitworth, coowner of Prestige Skateshop in downtown Boise told Boise Weekly that he and his business partner started working toward a better skatepark eight years ago. Since then, the Boise Skateboard Association-of which Whitworth is a member- began talking to the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation about its dream of a modern skatepark.
The association's wish came true last year, when the Albertson Foundation announced it would pay for design and construction, then turn the park over to the city of Boise as a gift. Seattlebased skateboard park design company Grindline has already been hired to draw up the blueprints.
All of this came only months after Rusty Bitton was beaten to death under the overpass on the night of Oct. 28, following a summer of conflict between police and the homeless community.
Holloway told BW in December that the improvements to the skatepark could help " reenergize" the neighborhood.
"It will create an area that will be an attraction, where families will be able to gather," Holloway said. "We think it's giving the whole area back to the families and children that enjoy that skatepark."
City Council members in the work session asked Holloway and Harrington questions concerning the fast-moving traffic on the streets that border the skatepark, adequate lighting for the area and integrated bike lanes.
The next step for the park comes in the form of a detailed landscaping plan that specifies exactly what plants will go where, what sort of public art and lighting will be installed, and what Boise's first official parkour obstacle course will look like.
Once the City Council approves the plan, construction could start in the late spring. Holloway told BW the park should be completed by the late summer.
"It's a very unique park," Harrington said to the City Council. "What will people make of this park? I think it's going to be a really exciting and active location."
While planners enthused over the particulars of the renovation, one detail was left out. During Holloway's presentation no one said anything about plans for the people-and their belongings-that will need to be pushed out of the area to make way for the facelift.
American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho executive director Greg Morris questions the possible underlying motivations for the project.
"I think the public clearly understands what is happening here," he told Boise Weekly. "The city of Boise has found a willing partner to renovate an area where the homeless have been living publicly in order to displace them. ... And boy, this project is happening at breakneck speed for City Hall."
Morris said he would rather see " even half of this renovation budget" go toward housing and support services for the homeless.
"Boise's most vulnerable populations continues to be pushed out, criminalized, and considered inferior to public art and amenities," Morris said. "The next chapter in this administration's war on the homeless has just taken a new, more sophisticated track." I 1V1
The city of Boise is aiming to renovate Rhodes Park with nearly $1.4 million in public and private funds, but so far public conversation about the project hasn't included the word "homeless."