I've been to a fair number of ribbon cuttings over the past decade, and I have to say that Friday's opening of Canal Park
seemed to be infused with a level of excitement and joy that I don't think I've seen at any of the others.
While getting Nationals Park
open in 2008 was a triumph of speed and scale, the 13-year journey of the three-block park at the heart of Near Southeast required so many hands and so much patience and resulted in a space with which the stakeholders are clearly thrilled that it shouldn't really be a surprise that on a gorgeously crisp late fall day so many attendees were walking around with what Tommy Wells described as "a huge smile on their face."
The speakers standing at a podium in the center block's small pavilion ran through the list of names and agencies that brought the park to fruition, starting with developer William C. Smith, whose CEO Chris Smith started the long drive to build the park, creating the Canal Park Development Association back in 2000. Then there was money from the federal government and the DC government, additional dollars and much support from the DC Housing Authority, work by OLIN landscape architects and STUDIOS architecture to design the park with innovative sustainable development
and storm water management components (and a skating rink!). Props were given for the hiring of Housing Authority residents for 15 of the park's 25 part-time jobs.The Capitol Riverfront BID and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities also took bows for their parts in the park's creation (and future).
After the speeches, the festivities moved to the skating rink, where the ribbon was cut and Mayor Gray drove the Zamboni, and then the public laced up its skates and got out on the ice. And they kept skating, well into the night
. (And I have no doubt there will be big crowds at the rink and park today as well.) For all the happiness seen in the park's founders about getting it finally opened, I saw equal measures of surprise and cheer that so many residents and neighborhood office workers had come to the opening, had stayed through the long speechifying, and now were skating and strolling.
I took a lot of photos of fenced-off schoolbuses
in the early years, posted a lot of renderings (some for the park's first design that never materialized), and bugged a lot of people to find out the latest. It was, after all, one of the few projects that was already in planning when I started tracking Near Southeast in early 2003, along with the Capper
redevelopment and Capitol Hill Tower
And now the park is open (with the Park Tavern restaurant to follow "within a few weeks"), and everybody can enjoy it. Finally!