Birney Imes: Tan Yard Park

September 5, 2009 8:20:00 PM

Birney Imes - [email protected]


Sometimes all it takes is a picture. 


The most eagerly anticipated question of the just completed Columbus charrette was the recommendation on where to put the soccer complex the city and county want to build. 


For months now we''ve been debating on three sites: Burns Bottom, property owned by Jimmy Graham west of the river and Corps land adjacent to the Riverwalk. 


Readers of this column know I''ve argued vehemently against siting the complex in Burns Bottom. My main objections were that the Bottom is a beautiful natural area adjacent to downtown and the construction of six athletic fields and all that accompanies them will diminish both. 


Ninety percent of the time such a facility would be an empty, unused eyesore, I opined. And, as it was originally conceived, I still believe that to be the case. That''s fine off in an area designated for such, but Burns Bottom is at the heart of the city. 


And then I saw the picture. It was the first thing I encountered walking into the meeting room in the lower part of the Trotter Convention Center Thursday evening. It looked to be a large watercolor of Burns Bottom with sports fields incorporated into a verdant landscape. The fields were not aligned as in earlier drawings, but rather they were positioned in a way that preserves the existing natural topography. 


Consideration was given to Moore''s Creek and its accompanying wetlands and magnificent trees, some of which must be well over a century old. 


Later, in his presentation, charrette leader Randy Wilson called the concept Tan Yard Park. The charrette team''s vision for the site is a sprawling natural setting, not unlike New York''s Central Park, a public place that is more a park and less a sports complex. "Fields set in among trees in an outdoor room," Wilson said.  


The name Tan Yard Park is also an improvement on Burns Bottom. 


Local historian and architect Sam Kaye, who served as a native guide for the charrette team, said what is now Moore''s Creek was shown as Tan Yard Creek in field notes made at the time of Columbus'' founding in 1821. 


The area that would later become the Hitch Lot and is now the site of the Farmers'' Market was identified as The Tan Yard on an 1849 map, says Kaye.  


Kaye says the leather tannery operated on the lot was likely run by a black man named William Cooper who lived in the area in the 1790s. Cooper died in the 1820s and is buried in an unmarked grave at Plymouth Cemetery near the Corps office on Old West Point Road. 


Kaye said he was relieved by the recent proposal. He, too, was dismayed by the threatened destruction of the natural beauty that has taken generations to develop and the degradation such a facility would do to the area. 


What about power lines? Lights? Will we have to find a Frederick Law Olmsted to design it?  


"No, a landscape architect can do it," said Kaye. Power lines can be buried and lighting can be made unobtrusive, he said. 


If a park could be realized as was presented Thursday night, it could be a wonderful thing for Columbus. A rambling green space connecting the Riverwalk to downtown and, perhaps later, north Columbus via a bike trail along Tan Yard Creek (or Moore''s Creek) would be transformational. But only if it were done right, only if the existing natural topography is preserved, only if every effort is made to blend the fields with the natural environment. Otherwise, we''re much better off doing as other towns have done, building soccer fields in an area dedicated for such, at a less central site like the Graham land. 


"It''s amazing what comes out of this stuff," Kaye said.  


Yes it is. 




Other items on the charrette wish list: more bike paths, a downtown breakfast place, a city planner, a boutique hotel downtown, tennants for empty buildings formerly occupied by big-box retailers and consistent signage for the city. 


A charrette idea that needs to be forgotten immediately: Town''s name on River Hill water tank. It''s ugly enough without drawing attention to it. Kaye agreed, saying he and Robert Ivy, who then practiced architecture in Columbus, called Light and Water when they heard the tank was first going to be painted white. Thankfully L&W allowed Kaye and Ivy to pick a color that helps the tank blend with the sky. 


Those attending Tuesday night''s meeting voted on several issues. For Columbus three most treasured assets, they picked downtown, MUW and Friendship Cemetery. One can easily think of a dozen others. 


Write or phone Birney Imes at The Commercial Dispatch, 516 Main St., Columbus, MS 39701, 328-2424, or e-mail him at [email protected]

Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.