OPN Design Restores 172-year-old Greene Square’s Role as Heart of Downtown Cedar Rapids

Greene Square in downtown Cedar Rapids may be dropping park from its name, but the new space will be just that: An open green space for gatherings and events with pathways and seating, a major art installation, and an interactive water feature.

The transformation will officially begin this week. OPN Architectslead designers on the projectjoined city, county, business, and community leaders for a ground breaking on June 10.

The design by OPN’s Bradd Brown, Stacey Hanley, Brent Pauba, Heather Lynxwiler, and Denise Clark was inspired by parks such as Chicago’s Lake Shore East Park, Iowa City’s Pedestrian Mall, Des Moines’ Pappajohn Sculpture Garden, and St. Louis’ Gateway Mall.

An expansive lawn flanked by a pair of walkways and a 40-foot-long, 26-foot-wide, 20-foot-tall, coil-like sculpture of brushed stainless steel by sculptor Bruce Beasley of Oakland, Calif., will visually connect the park to the two community institutions to its north and south.

The Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, the façade of which was updated by OPN in 2014, faces the park from Fourth Avenue. Patrons at the Cedar Rapids Public Library, an award-winning design also by OPN, will look to the park from the south on Fifth Avenue.

Originally platted along with the city’s streets in 1843, the park is named for Judge George Green, one of the city’s founding fathers. It was nearly paved over for a parking lot in the 1940s. The most recent updates were made 30 years ago.

“It’s time for Green Square to reflect all the changes to our downtown core,” Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett told those assembled at the ground breaking ceremony. “The design truly reflects the needs of our downtown community.”

A modern park is a stimulus for economic development, said Economic Alliance Executive Vice President Doug Neumann. It reinforces a community’s sense of place, which is something today’s workforce and therefore employers crave.

First named Franklin Park, then Washington for the school that once sat on the site of the current library, Greene Square was at one point the heart of downtown.

The park is “part of the reason the city got its name as the Parlor City,” Linn County Supervisor Linda Langston said. It served as the “front yard” or “parlor” for travelers disembarking at the train depot that once stood on the park’s west side. “I believe the renovation of Greene Square will restore the parlor of Parlor City, but it will be a modern parlor, not a parlor of the past,” she said.

It was indeed the park’s past and future that inspired the new design, said Brown, a principal at OPN in Cedar Rapids, who served on the art selection committee for the park and oversaw the design.

The project began in early 2012, when OPN was approached by representatives of the Cedar Rapids Public Library and Cedar Rapids Museum of Art to help revitalize the existing and worn Greene Square Park in the downtown district. The initial design work was donated by OPN. Once the City Council approved making the project a reality, OPN formally submitted their qualifications and was selected to provide the final design.

Work on the nearly $2 million transformation will begin by June 15. It will be mostly complete in time for the city’s annual tree lighting ceremony during the holiday season. Final work will be done by spring 2016.