D E S I G N U R B A N
Placemaking in Corpus Christi by LAURA N. BENNETT, AIA
RENDERINGS COURTESY OF DESTINATION BAYFRONT
LAST DECEMBER DURING A MEETING OF THE CITY COUNCIL, representatives of a local grassroots organization presented their concept for developing a six-block stretch of Corpus Christi’s downtown bayfront into a vibrant, multi-purpose destination. They envision an expansive public place along the lines of Discovery Green in downtown Houston. That organization is Destination Bayfront, which its leader describes as a “rag-tag band of zealots” dedicated to improving their community both aesthetically and economically through re-imaging how the city uses its primary natural resource—Corpus Christi Bay. The volunteers are working with the nonprofit Project for Public Spaces (PPS) to realize their vision, possibly as early as 2016. Based in New York City, PPS helped activists in Houston achieve their goal of creating Discovery Green, the 12-acre park that opened in 2008 and has revitalized that city’s urban core. The vision of Destination Bayfront is to create an inclusive, multi-purpose gathering place for the residents of Corpus Christi and its visitors that combines the park and beach elements of the bayfront. The group plans to string together a linear park that connects the downtown and the bayfront by incorporating existing parks and beach elements along with new public components. This flexible outdoor space is intended to generate cultural activities and other events that appeal to a diverse audience. In addition, its planners want this public space to be economically sustainable as well as easily maintained. Elements of Destination Bayfront emerged from a design charrette, co-sponsored by AIA Corpus Christi and the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, that was held in 2003 to rethink civic uses of the bayfront. One of those elements is the realignment of Shoreline Boulevard, the wide thoroughfare separating downtown and the seawall. The street project is currently being designed by the City of Corpus Christi as part of a $13 million capital improvements package approved in 2008 by local referendum. Trey McCampbell, one of Destination Bayfront’s organizers, served as the facilitator of the 13-hour charrette. The results of the charrette became the starting point for the volunteer efforts of Destination Bayfront, which held a series of community workshops that attracted participation from more than 500 people. With assistance from Project for Public Spaces, Destination Bayfront compiled the information gathered and presented its findings during another public presentation attended by 300 people. By the end of the process, over 2,500 people participated in approximately 80 public meetings. Their collective comments were analyzed and incorporated into a conceptual master plan. Following the group’s presentation of the master plan on Dec. 7, council members endorsed the concept. Receiving that critical endorsement concluded the first of a three-phase strategic initiative. Destination Bayfront’s second phase is now underway and will culminate with the establishment of a nonprofit to develop and manage the project, as well as planning for the hiring of design professionals to produce a schematic design. The area under consideration is located just south of downtown, beginning at Coopers Alley and extending about six blocks south to Furman Avenue. Various destination points within that stretch will feature public amenities, such as a water feature and greenspace. In the middle is planned a central square (zocalo) with space for an outdoor market, areas for public speaking, and a stage for performances. The concept includes another destination place called the Park Avenue Pier, a place reminiscent of Corpus Christi’s bygone Pleasure Pier that still evokes fond memories among local residents. Although only in the beginning stages, the community leaders working together as Destination Bayfront have forged a strong foundation for achieving their vision that promises to become Corpus Christi’s crowning jewel that promotes economic growth and successful urban revitalization. Laura N. Bennett, AIA, practices architecture in Corpus Christi. More information can be found at www.destinationbayfront.org.
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