History: How did this project come about?
As part of the San Anselmo Flood Risk Reduction Project (SAFRR), the County of Marin purchased the buildings at 634-636 San Anselmo Avenue and scheduled to demolish them for flood flow improvements in the existing San Anselmo Creek channel within Creek Park in 2020. It did not go unnoticed that this would greatly impact the existing park. The initial intention by the County was to put Creek Park back to its current state after demolition and construction was completed. However, the Town of San Anselmo decided to take this opportunity to reimagine Creek Park into a new downtown “commons” that both embraced and capitalized on a revitalized creek-front setting. The hope was that this new civic gathering place will energize the heart of San Anselmo and reconnect our downtown to the park, the creek and beyond.
What is the idea?
Urban spaces periodically need to be rethought and renewed by their communities, especially ones that have historically turned their backs on existing waterfront (creek-side in our context) settings. The Town of San Anselmo has this unique opportunity to revitalize the heart of its downtown, a challenge that so many small towns now face.
San Anselmo usually has limited levers to materially influence its economic vitality. Reimagining Creek Park into new civic commons is the most powerful and immediate lever the Town can use to boost economic vitality and give our downtown a significant community-gathering place.
We believe Creekside Commons (potential new name) will inspire people from all over San Anselmo, Marin and the Greater Bay Area to come, enjoy the space, and experience all that our beautiful downtown has to offer—shopping, dining, entertainment and leisure.
Why a competition?
The idea was to seize the moment of disruption created by the County’s flood control project and turn it into an opportunity for our Town to reimagine the whole space into a commons; which now will also incorporate the west side of the Creek along San Anselmo Avenue (where buildings were removed). This in turn energizes the whole area, connecting the park-side area with the downtown and highlighting the Creek, our unique Town asset. Given a tight timeline, determined by the County’s project, and the charge to have it funded through private community donations, an idea formed to engage the top landscape/urban design talent in the Bay Area to help us reimagine this space.
Once the county flood work is complete, San Anselmo will have a major cavity in the center of Town. This will be San Anselmo’s chance to fill that cavity with a public asset that will be transformative to the character, sociology and attractiveness of our Town.
How did the competition work?
The premise of the competition was simple; blend San Anselmo community input with best-in-class landscape architects and create a commons community space that will last for years. Stewardship of the project by the Reimagine Creek Park Community Advisory Committee (CAC), assured it was rooted within our community. The CAC reached out to our stakeholders with separate surveys – to our residential community and our business community. We distilled this feedback and the responses provided the criteria for the competition brief which informed the design firms.
The hope was to inspire and harness the creativity and depth of experience of these firms to project the potential for what Creekside Commons, the heart of our downtown, can become. This was an interesting challenge – it’s a public space and the process is subject to many variables, both known and unknown. The process ensured that we will have a design that reflects the past, present and the future of San Anselmo.
This was a unique design competition. There wasn’t any prize money. According to the contest rules, the winning design firm could enter into a mutually acceptable design services contract approved by the Town Council with the hope that their inspiration might make a dramatic impact on San Anselmo and the entire county.
We began with a Request For Qualifications (RFQ) process that was open to all professional landscape design firms.
What was the result?
We received 15 submissions from renowned design firms. A community derived review committee selected 7 firms and invited them to develop concepts so we might understand their approach and thinking. All 7 firms produced stunningly thorough design plans. We estimated the Town received well over $200,000 in pro-bono services and extraordinary design concepts during this phase of the competition.
We short listed 4 finalists to present their concepts in a public Town Council meeting in May 2019. All of the solutions were world class design. RHAA, a venerable Marin landscape architecture practice, was the selected winner. The review committee and the Town Council felt their design concept best captured the potential for how this new space could be transformative and inject new energy into the heart of our downtown.
What is the budget for the Creekside Commons project? Is the project funded by tax dollars?
Creekside Commons will be revenue-neutral for the Town of San Anselmo. Design costs have been secured by private donations. The County project was already planning to rebuild the creek banks that will be affected during the demolition and creek work. The Town anticipates working with the County to use SAFRR project funds earmarked for recreation facilities for the reconstruction of the park area destroyed during the building demolition staging. All construction costs above this funding, as well as a maintenance endowment fund, will be raised through private donations and grants from the community. There will not be a parcel tax associated with the Creekside Commons project.
What is happening to the existing elements of Creek Park?
The design firms have been charged with taking into account many aspects of the current park and imagining the future for a lasting Commons. Competition evaluations will consider how successfully the submissions accommodate, balance and prioritize the many program, features and activity possibilities to achieve the goals. Some of these are:
- Highlight the Creek. San Anselmo Creek bisects our Town. While it courses through its downtown, the creek has never been integrated as an asset or capitalized upon as an important feature of the Town. San Anselmo has a once-in-our lifetime opportunity to transform its downtown into a truly vibrant civic space and regional destination unlike any other place in Marin.
- Better space utilization. Creek Park is an underutilized open space in the center of San Anselmo. The intention is to engage a qualified design professional team to steward the reimagine process and work with the Town to bring a revitalized Creek Park to life as Creekside Commons. Our community loves to come together downtown, with events ranging from Concerts in the Park (including the popular Beatles in the Park), to Picnics on the Plaza, to Country Fair Day and beyond. It would be wonderful to have a space that can comfortably welcome and facilitate our community gathering.
- Accessibility. This is an opportunity to update the area to provide barrier-free access and ADA compliance – to welcome and accommodate all of our community and all visitors.
- Parking – what is needed now and in the future. The existing park is surrounded on two sides by diagonal parking spaces, accessed by a circulation road that also provides service, delivery, and emergency access. Parking in San Anselmo at peak times can be challenging. At the same time, there is a lot of disruption in this area and society is rapidly moving to alternative modes of transportation. Part of the charge of this and every downtown project is to consider if parking spots are the best use of this space, now and in the future.
Who is the Community Advisory Committee (CAC)?
Town Councilmember Brian Colbert presented the idea to the Town Council to create the Reimagine Creek Park Community Advisory Committee (CAC) of local townspeople with varying areas of expertise. The Town Council adopted a resolution establishing the Reimagine Creek Park Community Advisory Committee at its February 12, 2019 meeting. This group of volunteers worked hard to make sure the competition ran smoothly and fairly, while also communicating to our community, and securing fundraising.
All of the meetings have been noticed and open to the public. Now the CAC is tasked with continued community fundraising and helping the Town Staff with the community input phase of the design process.