In 1981, a series of devastating fires destroyed much of downtown Poteau. This left large gaping holes throughout downtown. While these were eventually filled in, such as with Dewey Plaza, others soon became blights on the downtown business appeal.
Sadly, this is common in many towns. Either through fire, negligence, or structural damage, historic buildings are torn down, leaving empty holes where thriving businesses once stood.
While many towns erect new buildings in place, many times, they simply don't fit the architecture of the surrounding buildings. One option is to create mini-parks, or pocket parks.
These pocket parks, such as the one in downtown Poteau, serve a vital function. They provide a break from the concrete canyon by offering green space, the serve as a resting place for shoppers to the downtown district, and they provide a venue for community events.
In this article, we'll walk through the transformation of Poteau's pocket park, now named Poteau Town Square.
Building Poteau's Pocket Park
After the 1981 fire in downtown Poteau, a large burned out area existed that was overgrown with weeds and random chunks of concrete. In 1992, former Poteau mayor Don Barnes decided to do something about it.
His vision was to create a central gathering spot in the heart of downtown Poteau that catered to community events. He said that he wanted to create a sense of "togetherness" for the region, and his dream was to see that happen in downtown Poteau.
The city got to work on his vision. First, they cleared off the concrete and then ran water and electric lines over top of the still-solid concrete. Once the electric and water lines were run, he topped it off with asphalt, installed three street lights, a large water feature, and planters around the edge of the park.
The dominant feature was the stage in the back, alongside the large "Town Square" entry sign at the front of the park.
Once complete, the city began hosting large events inside the park, including things such as music and movies on the weekends.
Shortly after installing the new planters, problems began occurring. Within just a few years, all of the planters and the entry sign were removed.
After the first heavy rain, the adjacent buildings began having water seep in through the side walls. This was due to the planters retaining moisture. The center planters that surrounded the light poles had the same problem, which began causing electric concerns.
Although the park was sloped at the correct angle, the dirt simply retained too much moisture.
Once the planters were removed, all that was left was a large asphalt slab.
Plans for Revitalization
In 2012, while working on the book "The Birth of Poteau", Eric Standridge interviewed former mayor Don Barnes. During that time, Barnes spoke about his vision for the pocket park and his disappointment that it never took over as he wanted.
After publishing the book, Standridge formed a team to work on rebuilding the park. Initially, the Poteau Improvement Project, as the team was known, began by taking community surveys.
The initial surveys were polled to the community and asked questions such as what people wanted to see the park used for and how they wanted to see it designed.
After the surveys were complete, a plan was drawn up and presented to both the City of Poteau and Poteau Main Street Matters. The plan consisted of a financial statement, a 3D rendering, and video of the project, and several 2D drawings of the project. However, at first, things looked bleak. Each time the plan was submitted, it was rejected due to a lack of finances.
As with any project, finding the funding is the hardest part.
The Project Begins: Raising Money
In 2012, Standridge took over the position of Director for Poteau Main Street Matters. Many of the projects that he was working on before were carried over. One of the main projects for Downtown Poteau was to see the dream that Mayor Barnes had come true.
Using information from the surveys and the physical plans for the park, work began on getting things prepared.
The first step was to begin raising awareness. This was done through posters and signs, social media, public speaking, and visiting individual homes and businesses.
As people got on board with the project, many began to donate. As an additional fundraiser, an "Adopt-a-Brick" program was started. Bricks were "sold" at $100 each, with a cost of $15 per brick. Over the next year and a half, enough money was raised to begin construction on the project.
Because the area had already been developed, and funding was limited, alternative ways to revitalize the park had to be created.
After raising $15,000, Standridge began contacting several concrete layers in the area. Estimates for laying concrete in the park ranged from $50,000 to $70,000, however, through negotiating with a local concrete layer, the cost was reduced to $12,000.
To get that price, all of the prep work had to be done beforehand.
To address the problem of moisture seeping into adjacent buildings, a thick vapor barrier was first installed. This ran up each wall by a foot and covered the entire area that was covered by asphalt.
Next, frames were installed that separated the central brick walkway from the concrete area. Within each frame, 10-foot sections were marked out. As the concrete was poured, each section was framed using 1x4's. This served three main functions. First, it created expansion joints to help protect the concrete from cracking. Second, it created a channel for water to run off. And third, visually, it provided 10 foot "pre-established" vendor sections for outdoor markets.
Over the course of several days, each section was poured and then "broomed" to provide a nice, even finished look.
With the concrete work finished, the labor-intensive work of laying the brick began.
It was decided that the bricks should be sat on a sand base. This was mainly so that personalized bricks could continue to be installed even after the project was completed. Although this requires a little more maintenance, the long-term benefits will be seen for many years to come. The only drawback with this method was initial sand wash out. Once a couple of years passed, the sand compacted down enough to prevent wash out.
The first step was to install the sand base. Standridge and a number of volunteers poured a 4" bed of fine sand.
Once the sand was laid, a center point was marked and bricks were laid in using a cross-hatch pattern.
Around the fountain, a speed square and chisel was used to trace the contours of the fountain.
Making the Park Pop
When the project started, the Eagle Scouts volunteered to build planter boxes for the Town Square. In return, the scouts got to pick where the planters went and the types of plants to go in them.
Two of the smaller planters went behind the fountain. These helped frame the fountain and provide a focal point to the park.
The two larger planters went on either side of the brick walkway. Trees were planted in them to provide shade throughout the park as they mature.
After the planters were installed, another volunteer helped freshen up one wall with a coat of new paint while another repainted the existing mural on the opposite side. Around the same time, the stage area was also repainted.
As a finishing effect, old-time Edison lights ran across the park. This enabled the large street lights to be turned off and provided a warm atmosphere to the park at night.
Smaller projects were also completed, such as upgrading the public restrooms and repainting the existing fixtures.
To increase the attractiveness of the park, free wifi was also installed.
The Completion of the Poteau Pocket Park
Although Mayor Barnes has passed on, his vision has come to life. Through the hard work of a few individuals, Poteau's Town Square has become one of the most popular attractions in the downtown district.
Liz Westwood from UK on December 08, 2018:
This is an encouraging and very well-documented development.