Westerville News & Public Opinion

'Westar' for now

New park will reflect city history

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This city rendering shows the proposed Westar Park, planned at the northwest corner of Polaris Parkway and Africa Road. The park design honors the community's Abolitionist history and its active participation in the Underground Railroad.
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Westerville's next park will pay homage to the city's history.

The park, planned on a half-acre at the northwest corner of Polaris Parkway and Africa Road, carries an Underground Railroad theme through all of its design.

A compass rose will be in one corner of the park, and the main design element will be fashioned to look like the big dipper with a stream running from its handle into the bowl of the dipper.

That's meant to reflect how runaway slaves would flee north along Westerville's waterways, hiding on the banks, and using stars as their guide, said Parks and Recreation Development Administrator Mike Hooper.

The compass rose also acknowledges the rose that would be placed in the window of the Hanby House when there was a slave to be moved along the railroad.

A sculpture at the corner of the park will reflect light in all colors of the spectrum, meant to be reminiscent of the northern lights that runaway slaves would have seen as they arrived to destinations north, Hooper said.

"This park really tells a great story," Hooper said. "We wanted to take (Westerville's) history and repeat it in our design."

Information panels on the Underground Railroad and the role that Westerville played likely will be included in the park.

The park's planners also hope the park, dubbed "Westar Park" for the time being, will serve as a destination for families and workers in the area. The location is just across Africa Road from OhioHealth's Westerville Medical Campus.

The stream will be just deep enough for children to play in -- splashing around and stacking rocks to divert the flow of the water, said Westerville Parks and Recreation Department Director Randy Auler.

"We want to have families coming back to the site," Auler said. "We think that it provides a lot of great opportunity to enhance recreation, the arts and education for the city of Westerville."

The development of the park also allows the city to take control of an important corner, Auler said.

Two office buildings and a retail strip center are planned farther northwest at the corner, and the city worked with developers to purchase land for the park, to screen the large parking lot that will accompany the development.

The parks department presented the plan May 22 to the Westerville Planning Commission, which previously approved the office and retail development for the site.

The land cost the city $100,000, and the design and construction of the park was set to cost $450,000, said Assistant City Manager Julie Colley.

That money will come from a tax-increment-financing agreement for the area, meaning the project will be funded by commercial landowners in the area rather than Westerville taxpayers, Colley said.

The park will be constructed in conjunction with the first office building to be placed on the site, Auler said, with construction expected to begin later this year. That means the park would be ready for patrons next summer.

Planning Commission members unanimously approved the plan with the conditions that city staff ensure the park would be secure enough to keep children in the park and away from the busy intersection, and that the city consider a different name for the park.

"Westar," a term for commercial development in the northwest corner of the city, has been adopted by the city, making the name sound too commercial for the city-owned park, commission members said.

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