October 13, 2020 | Story by: Jennifer Timar, Livingston Daily
A new public park with an amphitheater, slides and what Kate Litwin calls “whimsical elements” is under construction near Howell’s historic train depot on land bordered by Michigan Avenue and the parking lot on Wetmore Street.
“Literally, it’s like something new is coming every single day,” said Litwin, Howell Downtown Development Authority director and chief operating officer of Howell Main Street Inc.
Everything will be completed this week, she said. The city will host an invitation-only grand opening on Thursday evening and the park is scheduled to open to the public Friday.
“The stages are being built. There is landscaping is going in. We’re going to install the peace poles and birdhouses,” she said Thursday.
The park will feature two stages, including a main stage with electricity, and amphitheater seating.
Litwin said no performances or events have been planned for the park due to uncertainties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, but people have started to pitch ideas for future events.
The park will also feature concrete tables for ping pong, checkers and chess, a corn hole arena and a labyrinth.
Local artists created some of the park features, including arches made by Hell blacksmith Jim Roth and painted by Howell painter and public muralist Kelly Beacome.
Sara Hemmeke and Cheyenne Bolin, both Howell artists who recently painted murals on downtown Howell buildings, are working on colorful, creative poles called “peace poles” for the new park.
Litwin said peace poles are like “feel-good obelisks with inspirational sayings and words.”
“They are colorful and decorative and bring that feel-good vibes to the space…They will help make it really feel like Howell, since they are done by local artists,” she said.
The name of the park will be announced Oct. 15.
Litwin estimates the final cost of building the park will be about $130,000. She said it was was inexpensive compared to what it could have cost — she guessed $300,000 or $400,000 — if businesses, organizations and individuals had not donated some of the features.
Howell Main Street, Inc. was awarded a $27,852 “Play Everywhere Challenge” grant by Washington, D.C. nonprofit KaBOOM! and the Built to Play initiative supported by the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation, according to a release from KaBOOM!
Howell-based Thai Summit America Corporation contributed more than $100,000.
Designing the park was a cooperative effort between Howell Main Street, Inc., the Howell Carnegie District Library and the Howell Area Parks and Recreation Authority.
Howell Carnegie District Library Holly Ward Lamb said the library will explore ways to use the park for its programs and events once construction of the parks is completed.
“I think the stage opportunity provides the opportunity for a performer or the traditional early literacy classes or story time program,” Lamb said.
She said due to COVID-19, programs spanning from literacy events to yoga have been held outdoors, with participants keeping themselves inside PVC pipe hoops to promote social distancing.
“I think it’s one of those, see it first and then you can start envisioning it and get a feel for what sort of audience size we could fit there and take it from there,” she said.
Litwin said the park could be the beginning of more changes on that side of downtown. Adjacent land owned by the Howell Carnegie District Library and the Parker family of Howell is a future development site. City officials put out a request for proposals to develop land where The Hive Teen Center is located. The city envisions new residential units and retail spaces.
“We have had developers interested and submitting concepts. They are being evaluated by property owners and city officials, and there is nothing to officially report yet. … I think our new gathering space might compliment whatever goes there,” Litwin said.