Capturing a City’s Vision for a Dynamic Public Plaza

Henry Hartshorn

City Hall in Colleyville, Texas, looks out on a 140-by-140-foot flat area of lawn with no trees or distinguishing features. But not for long.

City leaders envisioned turning that unadorned lawn into a dynamic public space with a critical linkage to City Hall and the Public Library. The goals included creating a signature gathering place for residents of this city of 25,000 residents nestled between Fort Worth and Dallas, while making retail/office/residential development adjacent to City Hall an even more enticing location.

The project is set for completion later this year, and it’s designed to provide a welcoming community centerpiece with amenities that include a covered stage for small concerts and  events, festoon lighting to brighten a new pedestrian corridor, benches and tiered seating for casual or formal use, attractive plantings, a signature fountain and an open area for gatherings such as the city’s annual Christmas Tree Lighting Celebration. During events, food trucks will be able to set up on the new pedestrian corridor in front of City Hall.

Our experience in working closely with the City to design the plaza underscored valuable lessons for meeting a client’s strategic goals with a plan that embraces and reflects local character.

Understand the Vision

City leaders and staff wanted to enhance the area around City Hall with a new plaza that sustains the Colleyville brand as an active and desirable community for families, busy executives and businesses. The plaza also would increase the vibrancy of The Village at Colleyville, a high-end mixed-use development around City Hall.

In essence, they contemplated a public space where the city could continue to expand traditions and residents could make lasting memories.

Tax increment financing revenue was available for the plaza, but budget-conscious city leaders wanted to ensure that limited public funds would be responsibly invested. The Freese and Nichols design team worked in tandem with the Colleyville team to understand their vision and incorporate elements they considered essential.

Lesson Learned: Engaging in a vision with detailed discussions about goals and objectives can generate a plan that meets high expectations, delivers a quality product with respect to budget constraints, and can result in a project embraced with enthusiasm.

Stimulate Creativity

The city requested three different schematic concepts to present to the City Council and residents to gather their input. The options needed to reflect 21st-century urban design but fit with the Mediterranean-style architecture in the area.

The options provided by Freese and Nichols ranged from a large elliptical open space to an “urban square” concept to a contemporary concept with fluid shapes and forms.

A potential shade structure in one of the designs inspired city staff to foresee a wider array of uses than initially had been discussed. The staff asked to make that element more prominent than simply an attractive canopy. Instead, they saw more versatility in a stage with an audio-visual system that would allow capabilities for large public events.

Lesson Learned: Encouraging staff to visualize additional functions with different design elements of a design will help a community make a space its own.

Go to the Citizenry

City staff went beyond the usual outreach to get resident input on the design options. After a Council workshop, we helped lead three open houses adjacent to the future plaza, where residents were invited to review drawings that incorporated elected officials’ feedback.

To help with visualizing — and to reach residents who might not come to City Hall — plans were displayed for viewing and comment at various public events; a weekend farmer’s market; and at a City movie night.

Owners of businesses and homes in the vicinity support the development and say they expect the plaza to create an economic boost and attract more residents and help bring more business to the area.

Ultimately, citizen input significantly shaped the final design. Every comment was tabulated and considered in the design process, which then resulted in a positive consensus plan that was approved at the final Council meeting.

Lesson Learned: Involving the citizenry early is a key to success and can positively impact design decisions — after all, the community that will use the park should have input in shaping its vision.

Public parks and gathering places enhance a community’s health and welfare while at the same time adding environmental benefits. Collaboration on the Colleyville Plaza has created a welcoming space for residents, nearby businesses and visitors, and it is an ideal event venue that the community will enjoy for years to come.

Texas Town & City magazine featured the project here on page 29: Community Building From the Group Up