Planning for the new LaSalle Park took a big step forward Wednesday night, when landscape architects unveiled a model of what the park and the new park across the Thruway might look like.
In prior meetings around Buffalo's West Side, people in attendance saw renderings of what might be done or heard landscape architects talk about what they were considering in the $50 million conversion of LaSalle into Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park.
Wednesday night at Waterfront School, the crowd heard the ideas and saw a very large model of the park, and conversion of a land berm and so-so lawn across the I-190 into what is being called Fourth Street Park. The two parks would be connected by a new pedestrian bridge across the highway.
Those attending had a chance to put hand-written Post-It notes on the model as comments. Edward Colon was worried. Colon is president of the Westside Little League Football Association, which uses LaSalle football fields and runs concessions for the football league.
"I don't really have a problem. I'm really excited about everything that they're doing. I just don't want them to forget what's been there and what is the heart of that park and has been since 1966," Colon said. "I feel that and I'm ready that it's going to come around. I think we deserve that and to be able to continue to offer the kids something that has been there forever."
While concessions are a real issue, the early plan calls for more sports fields on both sides of the Niagara Thruway. Neighbor Joyce DiChristina said she likes a lot of the plan.
"I do like the meandering pathways, but I would love to see a large water feature like Buckingham Fountain in Chicago," she said. "I also am working on the tourism. I do a lot of volunteer work and we need a place for tourists. We can't forget we do have a lot of tourists that come here, also. It's not just kids who play in the park."
The planners from Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates will be back in May with the final plan. Van Valkenburgh Principal Paul Seck said park design can be complicated.
"The balance between the recreation and the passive uses is probably the most important thing to get right," he said. "Currently, you've got recreation and flat spaces around and there's really no differentiation between the two. I think people who are coming here to go for a stroll and not be a part of the recreation will find it better and vice versa."
City officials have been working closely with the landscape team because the city is going to have to maintain the planned park, although the Wilson Foundation has set aside $10 million of the $50 million for an endowment.