MAKING A SPLASH
STAMFORD — Removing the dam didn’t create a buzz. Neither did redirecting the river or reshaping the land to form a flood plain.
But the fountain that will start shooting streams of water Thursday in Mill River Park is likely to ignite some excitement.
It’s because, after nine years of construction on the city’s “central park” — a concept that dates back a century — the fountain will be something people can see from Washington Boulevard, the biggest vantage point.
That side of the park has looked like a construction site — mounds of dirt surrounded by a chain-link fence — until it was cleared last month.
“For the longest time, people coming down Washington Boulevard couldn’t see the part of the park that’s completed,” said Dudley Williams, president and CEO of the Mill River Park Collaborative, the nonprofit working with the city on a major renovation of the once-blighted park. “We hope the fountain will be a sign of a new era.”
The fountain will “get a lot of ooohs and aaahs,” said Nia Rhodes Jackson, director of visitor experience for the collaborative. She anticipates it will draw more people to the quietly rippling Mill River, swimming with fish and visited by snowy egrets — “an interaction of people and nature in the heart of the city,” Rhodes Jackson said.
“Where else in a large city can you go into the central district and see rabbits and turtles and red-tailed hawks, meadows and native plantings, butterflies and all kinds of birds?” she said. “You can see half-a-dozen species of fish just steps from Broad Street.”
To view the fish, you have to walk along one of the park paths to the natural stone slabs placed on the river bank. Water jets from the fountain, however, will be visible even to the speediest motorist wheeling down Washington Boulevard.
“We hope it will get people out of their cars,” Williams said.
The fountain, designed by Delta Fountains of Jacksonville, Fla., the company that designed the Sept. 11 memorial fountains in lower Manhattan and at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., has 52 nozzles, said James Turner, vice president of design for the company.
Half are pop jets that shoot water in short bursts or sustained streams about 6 feet high, Turner said. The other half are arching jets that throw water about 20 feet from the edge of the perimeter toward the center.
Each nozzle has its own controlled, color-changing LED.
“A variety of light shows have been programmed so far, for special occasions such as pink for breast cancer awareness and red, white and blue for Fourth of July celebrations,” Turner said.
The staff of the collaborative has been trained to operate the lights, he said. The fountain can operate for many hours a day, all week long, he said.
“It’s a circulating system,” Turner said. “The water is captured and filtered and chemically treated. It’s not supposed to pool — it drains back to the trench. Pumps pull it from the trench and pump back to the nozzles.”
The 10,000-square-foot oval, measuring 134 feet by 92 feet, is “top-tier in terms of scale,” Turner said.
The fountain, which will convert to an ice rink each winter, was funded by a $5 million donation from the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation. The gift also covers the cost of a splash pad under construction at the park playground, set to open next year, and skate rentals and lessons for children who otherwise would not have an opportunity to enjoy the sport.
The ice rink, which can accommodate 150 recreational skaters, is set to open Nov. 17, Williams said.
In the meantime, his staff has to tackle “the learning curve” of programming the fountain, Williams said. The goal is to have the jets streaming from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day, he said.
“That’s our plan,” he said.
“We want people to have a chance to view it at night with all the colored lights,” Rhodes Jackson said.
A sound system, set to be installed next year, will allow the staff to set the water jets to music, she said. It also will provide music for skating.
The Steven & Alexandra Cohen Skating Center and Fountain is the latest addition to Mill River, a city park. The nonprofit collaborative is contracted to run programs, oversee the renovation, and raise money for the park. The park’s master plan estimates the renovation will cost $60 million and encompass 28 acres of greenway along the river from Stamford Harbor to Bridge Street.
The collaborative has reported that it has raised $22 million in private donations and $6 million in grants for the renovation. The city provides a third of the park’s annual operating budget, about $640,000, and the collaborative receives 50 percent of the incremental tax increases that result when the value of properties surrounding the park are enhanced by development or renovations.
“In most cities, you hear stories about green space disappearing,” Williams said. “We have a story of green space being created.”
Many U.S. cities work with nonprofit collaboratives or conservancies to build and operate urban parks, Rhodes Jackson said. It started with New York’s Central Park in the 1980s, she said.
“That showed that, to get the kind of care and attention you have to put into these places, the public and private sectors have to work together,” she said.