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Effort Under Way to Redesign Town Square Park

By Abby Hancock, Reporter (Social Issues, Youth Issues, and 2 Your Health), ahancock@ktuu.com
Published On: Apr 18 2014 09:18:56 PM AKDT
Updated On: Apr 18 2014 09:43:04 PM AKDT

It's the heart of Anchorage, but does it need a makeover? Some people in the community say Town Square Park should be re-designed, and several organizations are collaborating to hold an event so they can hear what the public thinks.

ANCHORAGE -

Several organizations are collaborating to address a problem park in Downtown Anchorage and hear possible design ideas from the public on how to make it safer.

Town Square Park has experienced a shift in the population that visits in recent years, according to city officials, Anchorage police and nearby businesses. It has become a place that attracts negative -- and sometimes illegal -- behavior, according to Holly Spoth-Torres, director of the city's Department of Parks and Recreation.

"We're starting to experience a lot of problems in Town Square (Park), whether it's crime or people just don't feel safe," said Spoth-Torres.

Nearby businesses like Kobuk Coffee Co. are fed up with what they see on almost a daily basis. Nina Bonito-Romine, co-owner of the gift shop, has complained to the city numerous times. She has made frequent calls to police to report negative incidents.

On Thursday, a Kobuk staff member called police after a man began throwing knives at the building. She has had to clean up alcohol bottles, drug paraphernalia and human waste.

"It's very ugly, and for such a beautiful space, it's time to look at how to mitigate those issues so it's harder for people to get away with it," Bonito-Romine said.

Complaints from the public and the Downtown business community have  prompted several groups to address possible designs that may better suit Anchorage and make the park safer. Currently, hills and tall trees create a secluded place for people to gather, not easily visible from the street. Spoth-Torres says this helps hide illegal activities.

However, some people believe the park should be left as-is. Scotty Pasco, 21, is homeless and spends a lot of his time at Town Square.

"People that live on the streets are always in the public eye, and it's kind of nice to be able to have fellowship somewhere where people aren't just watching you 24/7," Pasco said.

Multiple organizations have come together to hold what they call a Town Square Park Charrette -- essentially a design effort that the public is invited to participate in.

"People are starting to think differently of what Town Square Park could be, and I don't want anybody to be afraid," Spoth-Torres said. "We're going to respect the past but move into the future, so that it functions better for the Downtown community."

The Town Square Park Design Charrette will take place on Saturday, April 26 from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. Individuals are encouraged to register online to participate.