It’s official. The City of Walla Walla selected a design submitted by a Seattle-based engineering company for a permanent pedestrian plaza in its downtown area.
The city council voted unanimously on Wednesday, December 15 to approve the concept created by PBS Engineering and Environmental for First Avenue Plaza, as well as a new name for the space: WalawÃ la Plaza, which means “many small waters”.
The stretch of First Avenue between Alder Street and Main Street, previously a road between the two main downtown corridors, was closed and turned into an outdoor meeting space at the start of the pandemic to support businesses and restaurants with suddenly limited inner capacity.
PBS was selected by the city for the design work in September. After the city issued a request for qualification in July and received four submissions, a committee of three city employees and the executive director of the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation reviewed each submission and selected PBS Engineering as the most qualified team. .
That contract provided for payment of up to $ 166,450 for conception costs paid through the American Rescue Plan Act, a federal coronavirus relief program.
PBS hosted four stakeholder meetings in October and November to review three different design concepts and receive feedback. Once the final design was selected, an open house was held earlier this month for residents to meet with engineers and provide feedback.
Sandwiched between two bodies of water, the open concept will feature a curved path that winds between rest areas and movable landscaping elements. It is intended to provide an adaptable gathering space for residents and tourists of Walla Walla.
Two overhanging metal bar installations are intended to provide shade, while the landscaping and patterns embedded in the terrain will showcase the balsam fir, an important plant to the indigenous peoples of the region.
Conceptual design also includes plans to change the paving of streets where Main Street abuts the plaza to calm traffic by encouraging vehicles to slow down in that area.
The design faced some criticism in the days leading up to its final approval by city council. In a December 14 letter, local architect Jon Campbell criticized elements of the design and the process by which it was chosen, arguing that the public had not been properly involved in a project that would help define the center -City of Walla Walla for years to come.
âCreating a ‘public square’ in the heart of our community, an already heavily used place and a popular gathering place, should allow the public to have a full share in determining their appearance,â Campbell wrote. “The design process that led to the current plan only allowed a public glimpse of the project.”
Campbell also questioned whether PBS was the right company for the design of the place, writing that the group was “a talented and extremely competent company” but lacked the kind of specialization necessary for “creation. Parks”.
âThere is no other place in the community that will have an equivalent impact on how we collectively see ourselves and want to be seen than this site,â he wrote.
Finally, he questioned whether naming the site WalawÃ la Plaza and highlighting the iconography of the balsam tree sufficiently honored the indigenous communities in the region and made visitors aware of indigenous ties to the region.
City officials were not immediately available for comment.
Shortly before council votes to approve the design, Mayor Tom Scribner acknowledged that council had received letters expressing concerns about the project and said he appreciated the contribution. However, he also said the process is at the eleventh hour and needs final approval.
“It pays to get there early,” he said.
With the concept design approval, PBS is now responsible for creating technical designs for the construction of the site.
This design is expected to be completed in early 2022, with construction slated for spring. If construction and design are on schedule, the new permanent square could be completed by mid-summer 2022.