A missed opportunity.
That was how Bob Chapman, the CEO of Barry-Wehmiller Co. described the corner of Shaw Park that will soon be known as Chapman Plaza.
Shaw Park is decades old, and since its foundation in 1935, it hasn’t changed much. But the Clayton Century Foundation (CCF) wanted something new. They started to draft plans to renovate Shaw Park, however, before they could put anything into action they wanted to find corporate sponsors.
“We have teams of volunteers who go out and meet with corporate people to talk to them about our priorities, and Mr. Chapman was very interested in that corner,” said Judy Goodman, president of the CCF.
When the CCF came to Chapman about donating to potential plans to renovate the park, he hesitated.
“I didn’t hear [a plan] I was comfortable with, in other words, it sounded like we were doing projects, but we didn’t have a vision of what the park was going to look like,” he said.
Chapman wasn’t interested in supporting something he deemed not well thought out. So, that began the development of a master plan for the park.
“I happened to see that corner, and I know that that is one of the busiest corners in the city,” Chapman said. “I know that when people go to the restaurants they walk in that area, and I thought that it was a missed opportunity for something we could be proud of.”
A renovation like this would not be cheap, but with the Barry-Wehmiller Company, Chapman donated $7 million to finance the construction and maintenance of the new entrance to the park.
Mayor Harold Sanger is extremely grateful for this generous endowment, saying the donation is “the biggest single donation made to the City of Clayton since the donation of the ground for Shaw Park.”
The plans for Chapman Plaza include a fountain, tables and chairs, a waterfall, as well as other features below it in the park. Construction is planned to start next spring, and will take about a year.
This project was not produced without input from the Clayton community. In June, three public meetings were held. During these meetings, residents got a chance to examine the design and make changes due to what they thought would most benefit the community.
However, some Clayton residents think that the plan wasn’t shared with the public soon enough. In the early stages, planning was just between the CCF, the Board of Alderman and the Parks Department. The public meetings were held late in this process, and much of the plan was already decided on.
Clayton resident Lisa Mooney attended these meetings, and while she is glad that the plan is being communicated with the public now, she thinks the city should have shared the plans early in the process.
“I think what’s most important going forward is that they continue to communicate with citizens so that people continue to be comfortable and understand the project,” Mooney said.
One controversial topic brought up at the meeting was how the plaza would interfere with sledding at Shaw Park. The location of the plaza falls right on the famous sledding hill. Kids from all over the city come here to sled during the winter. Since the plaza would be built in the middle of the hill, citizens voiced concern over this.
However, Sanger believes this is not an issue.
“One of our revisions [of the plan] was to make sure that it was placed such that it did not interfere with sledding in the winter,” Sanger said. “The plaza will not interfere with the sledding hill, even though [sledding] is not something we encourage.”
The plans for Chapman Plaza were not constructed without the public’s opinion. The plaza would not have been constructed if it were not for people in the Clayton community like Bob Chapman willing to give back to the cause they have received so much from.
“Not everyone can give back on a seven million dollar level, but you know we have people give us 700 dollars or 70 dollars, and every little bit helps,” Goodman said.
Mr. Chapman said that in the end, he saw a park that was underused by the thousands of people who drive and walk by it each day. The new plaza, he hopes, is something that will catch their eye. “It would invite them to stop and come into the park.”