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Answering Downtown Points of Contention: Overhead Lighting & ìFake Grassî

The real story behind the artificial grass and lighting design for the new streetscape in downtown Mason City. PHOTO: Artificial grass and lights suspended by wires are part of the streescape design. The lights harken to days of old. Story by Bridgett Hauert.|All around Mason City and on local media message boards there have been questions floating around, along with some positive and some negative comments, about the new lighting on the North Federal Avenue plaza and the artificial landscaping; both are elements of the Streetscape Project by Main Street Mason City.

Click here to view photos.

Funding for the Streetscape Project, meant to improve the west and east sides of North Federal Avenue from the plaza on the north side of Southbridge Mall north to the Fareway Grocery Store, came from TIF financing. The short-term inconvenience of having many of these streets blocked off has also provided the area with newly paved streets, increased parking and a visually beautified space.

In the fall of 2009, there were several meetings held with community members, downtown property owners and members of Wright on the Park so that there would be a variety of view-points present during the public design process. In anticipation of the Historic Park Inn, the designers spent much time looking at historic photographs owned by the Mason City Public Library’s Historical Collection. (See photo gallery.)

According to Main Street Mason City Director, Marty Walsh, the lighting is meant to be a “permanent representation” of the lighting used in the early 1900’s in the downtown area. The simple fixtures are strung above intersections along horizontal wires much like they were at the time the hotel opened.

Much of the design process took place before Mr. Walsh was made Director of Main Street Mason City; questions regarding the “green space” between Moorman Clothiers and the Historic Park Inn were asked of Pam Myhre in City Hall. Ms. Myhre is the Director of Growth and Planning for Mason City and she said that during the public design process several criteria were formulated in order choose what was best for the space.

There was a need for a “new creative solution” as the plaza would hold several public activities and need to hold up to much foot traffic. The urban space in front of the mall is nestled among hard lines of muted browns and grays within the architecture so the design had to “pop” and be a colorful, a soft contrast. Most importantly, storm water drainage had to be dealt with as the area slopes down towards the mall entrance; there had to be a way to bring excess water straight down to the storm sewer.

The “field turf” chosen has become a popular landscaping solution on college campuses because it withstands heavy foot traffic and it is used for soft play-space at Charlie Brown Child Care. It is meant to be a place for cartwheels and picnics that does not obstruct the view of the retail spaces around it. Trees are also planted in the plaza and in keeping with the Prairie School style architecture in the area, long prairie grasses were also planted on the west side of the plaza for their low maintenance and the visual impact they will continue to display in the winter months.

For more information about the Streetscape Project and Main Street Mason City visit Main Street Mason City.|

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