Common Master Plan Recommends Frog Pond and VIC Improvements, Creation of New Dog Park

Recent recommendations to come out of the Boston Common Master Plan include improving the Frog Pond and Visitor Information Center areas, as well as creating a new fenced-in dog park near the athletic area.

“The Frog Pond area is ripe for improvement,” said Cheri Ruane, vice president of the Reading design studio, Weston & Sampson. “The Pavilion doesn’t adequately support staff and visitor needs… so that’s something we need to take a look at.”

Ruane was on hand virtually Wednesday, Sept. 17, for the third open house co-sponsored by the city and the Friends of the Public Garden – the nonprofit that assists it in enhancing and improving the Common, as well as the Public Garden and the Commonwealth Avenue Mall – to outline the Master Plan, which will help guide how the $28 million investment that Mayor Martin J. Walsh has committed to making in the Common using proceeds from the sale of the Winthrop Square garage. (The previous two Open Houses took place as in-person events last October at Emerson College and in January at the Josiah Quincy School Auditorium, respectively.)

The Frog Pond could be expanded for multi-age use, Ruane said, and outfitted with a splash pond at one end, while the playground, which she described as “absolutely critical to Chinatown [residents],” could also be enlarged for multi-age use, as well as provide additional seating and, with an expanded tree canopy, additional shade.

The Frog Pond Pavilion, Ruane said, could be expanded to include new amenities, such as restrooms and food vendors, and to house the apparatus used for chilling the ice rink.

The area adjacent to the Pavilion could also provide additional plaza space, she said, and with new seating and chairs, accommodate events.

Elsewhere in the park, the Visitors Information Center is also being eyed for a makeover as part of the Master Plan.

“There’s a need for more restrooms, and building itself is incredibly small [so it’s] not serving its intended purpose for tourism or as a welcoming center,” Ruane said.

The Master Plan recommends the creation of a fully accessible route through the plaza to the Park Street MBTA headhouse with an improved pedestrian gateway,  she added, while “the rear of the parcel that [the building] sits on has huge potential as a gathering space.”

(The Park Street and Boylston T stations themselves have been omitted for the Master Plan for now, Ruane said, since they could both under consideration for renovations as part of the T’s Green Line Transformation plan; “That area has been delayed a bit because of other considerations that are happening,” she said.)

At the Common’s athletic area, the tennis courts, which Ruane described as “incongruous,” could be rearranged to make room for a new fenced-in dog park, while smaller athletic fields could be combined into a large one to simultaneously accommodate more, and a wider variety of, activities.

Also, the Earl of Sandwich has the potential to be the “hub” of this part of the park, Ruane added, with new, fully accessible restrooms.

The Mater Plan ultimately aims to the expand the “geographic footprint” of the usable event space on the park grounds, Gene Bolinger of Weston & Sampson said, by improving and enhancing circulation corridors, and by shifting events and activities to other, less-traveled areas of the “50-acre canvas” in an effort to lessen the toll on the Common’s more-popular gathering spots.

“We’re also looking at more restroom and food [options] in areas where the footprint is being expanded,” Bolinger added.

Members of the Common Master Plan, including representatives from Weston & Sampson, the city and the Friends group, will be on hand virtually for a series of smaller, interactive Open House discussions today and next week, with each one focusing on different park-related matters.

“Visitor Activities and Play” will be the topic of discussion today, Thursday, Sept. 24, from noon to 1 p.m., while the events planned for Tuesday, Sept. 29, from 6 to 7 p.m., and Thursday, Oct. 1, from noon to 1 p.m., will focus on Performances and Active Recreation” and “Gateways and Edges,” respectively. (“Park-wide Strategies for Improvements” was the topic of the Sept. 22 discussion.)

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Mayor Martin Walsh, who was also on hand virtually, lamented that the city doesn’t own the Boston Common Garage and said that if it did, he would reinvest all the revenue from the garage back into the park.

Mayor Walsh described the new park being built in front of City Hall Plaza as part of its $70 million renovation as the Common’s “sister park” and added that he couldn’t wait to get underway with making improvements to the Common itself. 

“I want to get shovels in the ground,” Mayor Walsh said.

Meanwhile, the Common Master Plan, which “began in earnest last summer” according to Liza Meyer, Boston Parks Department chief landscape artist, is expected to wrap up this spring.

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