Lafayette Park renovation gets green light

Ambitious plans for a $10.2 million renovation of Lafayette Park have received enthusiastic support from neighbors and a unanimous thumbs-up from the Recreation and Park Commission.

In addition, a fund-raising mechanism has been put into place to allow park supporters to solicit contributions to supplement available bond funding to create a more elaborate 13,000 sq. ft. playground. It may include vibrantly colored play areas for children of various ages, along with boulder climbing, a tunnel slide, a creek, a tower and what landscape architect Jeffrey Miller called “the world’s longest monkey bar.”

“We think it’s going to be full of fantasy and fun,” Miller said.

The conceptual plan for the park makeover was developed by city staffers working closely with the Friends of Lafayette Park and other local residents. Many of the people who participated in the planning sessions appeared before the Rec and Park Commission December 16 to praise the process and support the plans for what several called “the crown jewel of the park department.”

But some concerns were raised.

Bill Marlow, who lives next to Lafayette Park, endorsed upgrades to the two tennis courts, but urged that they not be turned into multi-use courts. He also called plans for the expansive playground “a little over the top” and said he hoped it could remain more natural with less vivid colors.

Phil Durfee, who also lives across from the park, opposed changes to the existing plaza and picnic areas. “I think there’s some serious flaws in this redesign,” he said. “Redesigning the park was not part of the original deal.”

One disputed element of the plan would create an expanded meadow with terraced grass seating that could be used for community gatherings and public performances. Support for the public gathering place came the San Francisco Mime Troupe, which claimed a historic connection to Lafayette Park. Legendary rock promoter Bill Graham — then the mime troupe’s business manager — staged a fund-raiser in the park for the troupe’s legal defense fund in its early embattled years.

Support among the members of the Rec and Park Commission was unanimous, although chair Mark Buell, a neighborhood resident, acknowledged, “The playground looks ambitious.” Debate over the playground “will settle itself,” he said, when fund-raising begins.

Construction is to begin in the spring of 2012 and be completed by the summer of 2013.