Tarkington Park considered for "destination" park location

The design calls for several new amenities.

One of the city's most visible neighborhood parks could be turned into a first-of-its kind "destination" park.

Tarkington Park, between Meridian and Illinois at 39th Street, is popular for basketball, tennis and its playground area, but there's also a lot of unused space in the sprawling 11-acre parcel.

Midtown's Kathy Shorter said it's a park with a tremendous amount of potential.

"This is a remarkable blank canvas that could be something wonderful," she said.

Indy Parks has been holding meetings and gathering input from a variety of neighborhood groups, businesses, churches and non-profits in the area as it updates its master plan for the park.

Rundell Ernesterberger Associates (REA), an Indianapolis design firm, was paid $75,000 to lead the process. It's come up with two design concepts, based on public input.

REA principal Kevin Osburn said described the two as "different arrangements of the same activities."

In both plans, the only amenities that remain in their current location are the tennis courts at the north end of the park. Everything else is new, including up to three basketball courts which would be located at the southwest corner.

One plan calls for an urban dog park. Both plans call for an interactive playground, an illuminated spray pavilion with multiple jets that could be used as a temporary ice rink in the winter, an event pavilion and/or event lawn space, a café and possibly stage area, a space for the farmers market, picnic areas, walking trails and public art.

Osburn notes the café would be reflect "the clean modern aesthetic of Edward Pierre."

Pierre was a famous mid-century architect from Indianapolis. He designed the tennis shelter at Tarkington Park, which the city tore down last fall, causing an angry outcry from preservationists.

Jen Pittman, deputy director of Indy Parks, believes the new attractions would "draw users not just from the immediate area but a distance away."

She and Osburn see the park as an economic tool as well.

"If it's created in the manner we're showing, it really can be a catalyst to redevelop the surrounding areas," he said.

Despite the buy-in from many groups, some continue to question the size of the project.

Dick Hamilton lives in the nearby Tarkington Tower.

"I really question whether 11 acres is enough space to build a destination park," he said.

While Hamilton said he likes the plans for trails and shelters, he doesn't like "a venue that would attract a thousand people."

He worries about the impact on traffic and parking.

"This park doesn't have the room for all that," Hamilton said.

But Francis Ajishegiri, who goes to the park regularly with his children, feels differently. Looking at design concepts, he said, "Those are incredible concepts. I love it, especially the café... I think it's great, it would bring new life to the neighborhood, make it look a little better and a little more vibrant."

Pittman stressed updating the master plan is "the first step in a long process," but also noted it could move faster depending on community involvement.

Indy Parks will continue to take comments on the plan for another week with REA then coming up with a final concept plan, which will go to the parks board for approval.

A capital campaign would follow to raise the money for the park. While Pittman didn't have an estimated cost, she said it run in the millions. Shorter expected that Midtown would be one of the groups helping raise funds.

She said it was important part of tying several diverse neighborhoods together adding, "we love the fact it's not an ordinary park. In fact, we want it to be anything but ordinary."

 Learn more about the plan