Updated designs of the proposed Harmony Park shared during the city council meeting on June 20 show the public amenity is more than just a splash pad.
In addition to its water spray features, the park would be equipped with parking spaces for food trucks, interactive musical sculptures, an open lawn area and a pavilion shelter where guests can access a visitors center or use the public restrooms, a difficult amenity to find anywhere near downtown Newton.
Emily Thomason, a volunteer on the Harmony Park committee, said the project is to be constructed on a vacant city lot. Specifically, the park would reside in the green space on the southeast corner of the North Third Avenue West and West Third Street North intersection, directly south of Lions Gate Apartments.
Prior to the updated design work, the park was focused around three overlapping splash areas for teens, “tots” and families. Now there is only one area dedicated to the water features depicted in the new designs. Water sprays are proposed to have colored lights to allow for more fun photo sessions.
Thomason said the park is a connector to downtown Newton and Legacy Plaza.
“We need something to generate foot traffic and to attract businesses to the downtown area,” Thomason said, noting it could also encourage visitors to the Main Street District. “I, personally, have noticed that other towns near us have downtown parks, such as Grinnell, Monroe, Prairie City. Just to name a couple.”
Improvements to the park’s design visually complement the Main Street District, too, Thomason added. Harmony Park could also serve as a location for farmers markets and other small events, in addition to being a go-to spot for food trucks. The visitor’s center in the pavilion could also encourage tourism.
Of course, Thomason acknowledged the park has the potential to draw local families to the space as well. The assistant director of Peck Child Development Center in Newton told Thomason that the facility staff would utilize the park for their children on a regular basis in lieu of a pool.
So far, volunteers have raised $369,850 for Harmony Park, several of which have been contributions made by families and local businesses in Newton. Thomason said volunteers need about $30,000 to the reach their goal of $400,000.
The group leading the project still has work left to do. Volunteers will gather more public input and meet with city staff to update construction and maintenance costs. Convincing the majority of city council members to get on board with the project will be the No. 1 challenge of Harmony Park’s backers.
However, some city council members already had compliments for the project. Council member Evelyn George said it is important to point out the idea for the park came from new families in Newton, who proposed in late 2020 a splash pad be built in an empty downtown city lot.
“Families who saw the value of that empty lot that would connect downtown and Legacy Plaza and draw people to downtown with a splash pad, which we’ve talked about for years. That’s not a new idea,” George said. “The second most important point is: They didn’t just talk about an idea, they acted on it.”
Public-private partnerships throughout the community need to be supported and celebrated and encouraged, George added. Council member Mark Hallam had similar sentiments and complimented the new design, which he said looks so much more like a park.
Other elected officials wanted to know more about the project. Council member Vicki Wade asked if the group knew what updated maintenance costs would be, which Thomason reminded is still an aspect volunteers need to work with the city on. Wade also asked whether it was a private project or a Main Street project.
Bryce Heitman, a Newton resident who was part of the original group that pitched the splash pad, said the project did start out with a number of private individuals “closely associated with Main Street.” But it was Main Street that helped kick off the project and that it was always intended to fundraise under the organization.
“Shortly after we got council on board with the initial concept, the Main Street board voted it in to be part of Main Street,” Heitman said.
Wade asked Newton Main Street Executive Director Erin Yeager how the board “involved the downtown — being Legacy Plaza and the historic downtown — in this process” to decide whether it was a viable project. Yeager said part of expanding the district is to fill the gap between Legacy Plaza and downtown.
“With second story living we need some more parks in our downtown,” Yeager said, noting the project is intended to assist community growth. “I get Sunset (Park) is three or four blocks, but you have a lot of parents that are down there that just need a quick little place to go. So we need to bridge that gap.”
Heitman noted Wade, who is president of Destination Downtown Newton Alliance (DDNA), was present during a meeting with himself and the group about the project. Heitman said he received feedback from DDNA and a number of businesses that were at the meeting, in addition to Legacy Plaza.
“We’re hearing their input,” Heitman said.
Wade added, “And that’s what I’m looking for. Because I think it’s one thing if a few people say, ‘Hey we think we need this’ but it’s something that is going to take considerable time and effort and money. To know you have that buy-in is important for a project of this scale.”
Which is why there has not been much new information advertised about the park for a while, Yeager said. Volunteers heard the feedback and concerns and went back to the drawing board.
“We have been listening and we have been hearing what people want,” Yeager said.
Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or firstname.lastname@example.org