The Future of Way Park, and The Recent City Council Decision



As it stands now, Way Park stands to be rehabilitated, although work on this project has not yet started.  The city council, instead of following an earlier plan to build condos on the park land, has worked with landscape architect Spencer Jones to incorporate "the vision of the original design," a garden park with some formal elements on the north end and a less formal south end for walking, sledding, and kite flying.  The south end will also contain a memorial for the recently demolished hospital, a rain garden, and an outdoor ampitheater for community events.  While Sudermann is pleased with the Council's decision to maintain the land as a community park along the lines of the original design, he still feels that obtaining a designation as a historic site would benefit the park in the long run.  He says he "felt that historic designation could be a way of 'paying backward' a debt to the donors by restoring their rare original vision while 'paying forward' a special part of Northfield's heritage for future generations."


Sudermann says that the more he examined the history and geography of Northfield's west side, the more it struck him that Way Park formed the "historic core" around which the west side developed from 1855 onwards.  Making Way Park a local heritage site, he says, would help "preserve and revive" the west side neighborhood.  He also thinks that making the park a local historical site would help make the larger community aware of the park's "social, artistic, and historic significance."  A historic designation, he says, would also be helpful in raising funds for the park,  possibly including certain grant funds, and would increase the usage of the park for community events, and might motivate the city to maintain the park "better than it has in the past."  Sudermann also wrote of the possibilities of a "heightened 'civic pride'" in Northfield by commemorating the city's past.  If the park were to become designated a local historic site, the Heritage Preservation Commision would review any proposed alterations and ensure that any changes would be in keeping with the park's original master plan.  Some city councilors, Sudermann has said, felt that designating the park a historic site might tie their hands in terms of future alterations to the park.  Sudermann says this view is too negative, and says that the Park Board and the city would still "have latitude" to make changes that conform "generally" to the master plan.  Obtaining a heritage site designation, Sudermann says, would "safeguard" the park's "historic landscape integrity."  


Regarding the City Council's decision, Sudermann says he was "disappointed but not surprised."  Designations in Northfield have been rare, and so far no Northfield parks have been designated, so the process was a "novel experience for the city council."  Sudermann says that the City Council's fear that the designation would take more staff time was "understandable" but "misplaced."  A number of important personal conflicts prevented Sudermann from meeting individually with councilors before the meeting, and he says that "as a consequence, the council was not well informed."  Sudermann told me that there will be another attempt to designate Way Park in the future.