Children’s Park in downtown San Diego was meant to be an inviting oasis for people heading to the nearby convention center but it turned into more of a nuisance and some said an eyesore as it became a haven for drug dealers and other bad actors.
Completely redesigned by The Miller Hull Partnership and Spurlock Landscape Architects, the 1.6-acre park is undergoing a $9 million renovation to become a welcoming place for children and their families to gather and play, complete with an on-site restaurant and a rarity for downtown – public restrooms that will have on-site attendants 24-hours-a-day.
“The overall layout is transformed quite a bit,” said Jeff Troutman, an architect with Miller Hull.
When the park was built in 1995, few people lived downtown. The new design acknowledges the dramatic transformation that downtown has seen with a host of apartment towers going up and more to come.
“Downtown has really changed from the 90’s when nobody was living downtown,” said Brad Lents, a principal of Spurlock Landscape Architects.
“There’s a lot more activity around the area,” Lents said.
According to the San Diego Downtown Partnership, 37,000 people lived downtown at the start of 2022.
As originally designed, Children’s Park was meant to be a passive landscaped area with a semi-circular pond next to West Harbor Drive, trees lining the edges and scattered throughout the park, and a series of grassy mounds in the park.
“It was more of a walk-through,” Lents said. “It didn’t have a lot of programming because it didn’t have a population to serve.”
There were no amenities and no play equipment.
The only time the park really came to life was during Comic-Con, when some of the convention’s activities and exhibits spilled out from the convention center.
The makeover will change all of that.
“The real sort of push was to do something really different from anything else in San Diego,” Lents said, “to really make this a showcase park for the area.”
For starters, there will be a 9,500-square-foot children’s play area with sophisticated playground equipment.
The equipment will include what Lents said was a Viking swing – a large wooden structure that moves to mimic a ship as it’s rowed through the water.
“We added a fitness and game table area into the park along the north end,” Lents said.
The fitness equipment will be “a little bit more artistic and looks different from what you normally would see in a park,” Lents added, “not the traditional chin-up bar.”
The play area also will include a 35-foot-tall climbing tower with a 16-foot-high slide and a large climbing structure.
“It’s meant to be much more kind of a natural play area, it’s a lot of sort of large logs harvested from the Black Forest in Germany,” Lents said.
Troutman said that the new park also will have a 6,000-square-foot fenced-in dog section to better serve downtown’s new residents.
“A lot of people have condos. They don’t necessarily have a place to run dogs,” Lents said.
Custom benches made of eucalyptus logs from Balboa Park also will be added to the park.
Troutman said among the biggest changes will be the addition of a 1,000 square-foot comfort station with unisex restrooms that will be staffed with an attendant around-the-clock.
“Public restrooms downtown have sort of been a challenge downtown,” Lents said.
A take-out restaurant and outdoor patio with public seating will be adjacent to the restrooms.
Troutman said that a trellis will cover the patio leading out to a grassy lawn. The trellis will be made of slats that can be rotated to provide more effective shading as the sun moves.
“We’re really trying to make the building kind of spread out and connect to the surrounding activities and almost create an expanded space for the restaurant,” Troutman said. “The idea is you lay out on the lawn and have a picnic.”
The Civic Pond will remain, but a boardwalk will be added “so you can actually walk out over the pond,” Lents said.
Spurlock Landscape Architects
Founder: Andrew Spurlock
Principal: Brad Lents
Headquarters: Little Italy
Contact: email@example.com; 619-681-0090
Notable: Spurlock’s San Diego County landscaping projects have included restoration and enhancement of the Balboa Park Botanical Gardens and grounds, the Tijuana Estuary Visitors Center in Imperial Beach, Petco Park Park at the Park, Nautilus Park and the Ocean Discovery Institute.