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Thursday, Feb. 3, 2005 10:08 am

A new “front porch”

The new $2.5 million park about to be built as part of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum complex may include not just an amphitheater for music but also a gazebo for wedding ceremonies and Victorian-era gardens to honor Mary Todd Lincoln.

Richard Norton Smith floated some of these ideas for the park, which will occupy the 80,000-square-foot lot directly south of Union Station, during a recent interview with Illinois Times.

“We want the park to be more than a downtown gathering place,” says Smith, director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum complex. “It should be a catalyst for downtown renewal, a jewel in the local cultural, theatrical, artistic scene.”

State officials have been less forthcoming about possible design plans for what will be known as Union Square Park. But that’s about to change.

On Tuesday, Feb. 8, the state agency charged with overseeing the park’s construction is expected to announce the choice of a design firm for the project, which will be completed by the end of the year.

The Capital Development Board has narrowed the list to three firms, all of which have led major projects in Springfield:

• Springfield-based Melotte-Morse-Leonatti Ltd., which designed the pedestrian space on the south side of Old State Capitol Plaza and restored many of the historic buildings along Sixth Street between Adams and Monroe streets.

• The Chicago office of SmithGroup JJR LLC, which designed several urban parks located at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago.

• Carbondale-based White & Borgognoni Architects, which rehabbed the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices and will soon begin the $10 million restoration of Union Station.

The location for the new park for the last several years has served as a staging area for construction crews working on the presidential complex. The site was formerly a park, though it was neglected and often targeted by vandals.

CDB administrator John Evans says the new park will continue the revitalization of downtown Springfield.

“We’re looking to develop a front porch for the library and museum complex,” says Evans. “It will be a space that has multiple uses and is available to the community during evening hours.”

The chosen firm will create a design for the park by early next month, and bids for a general contractor for the project will go out in May, according to CDB spokeswoman Melaney Arnold.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the CDB is expected to present a list of three possible consultants to design a master plan for the long-awaited medical district on Springfield’s North End.

The board’s recommendation will require final approval from the Medical District Commission of Illinois, which meets later this month.

The state recently awarded the commission a $300,000 grant to design and market a plan to guide development in the designated area, which is bounded by North Grand Avenue and 11th, Madison, and Walnut streets.

According to Arnold, CDB has reduced the list of possible firms from 11 to four, all of which are based in Chicago:

• HarleyEllis, which designed a master plan for a hospital campus in Sandusky, Ohio.

• Loebl Schlossman & Hackl, which created a master plan for Illinois State University in Normal.

• RTKL Associates Inc., which created a site and facility master plan for Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago.

• SmithGroup JJR LLC, which designed the south campus of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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