Willis Winters Gives Us a Slightly Soggy, Kind of Early Walking Tour of Main Street Garden

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Less than one month from now, this very spot will be where the city plants Thomas Balsley's 60-foot-tall Christmas tree.
Willis Winters, assistant director of the city's Park and Recreation Department, was kind enough to give Unfair Park a tour of the $17-million Main Street Garden this morning -- and by "garden," I mean mud pit and swimmin' hole. Hence, Winters's acknowledgment that, yes, it's quite likely the garden -- the first of several planned downtown parks -- won't be quite ready for its November 13 official debut, especially with more rain in the forecast for week's end.

"The rain is killin' us," says Winters. "We were originally shooting for November 5, and actually there will be quite a bit done by November 5. It will be presentable by November 13. We're trying to prioritize what will be finished right now. There's a slight chance that date will change. But that's due to scheduling, not construction." He's referring to the fact several council members are scheduled to attend the National League of Cities convention in San Antonio that week.

Park and Rec's assistant director, Willis Winters, standing where the stage will be in Main Street Garden
Still, he says, the park's "in good shape" for the November 20 City Lights Christmas-tree lighting ceremony, when DowntownDallas will debut New York-based landscape architect Thomas Balsley's 60-foot-tall tree. (Addison-based Excitement Technologies, which has done work at Cowboys Stadium, is handling the lighting and production, says DowntownDallas's Kourtney Garrett.)

"As you can see, we're trying to work around" the mud and water, Winters says. "All the activity today is on the perimeter, and we're trying to scrape the mud to the center. That's the easiest thing to finish at the last, so now they're just using it as a staging area."

After the jump, Winters walks us through the park's amenities. But first question's first: Will the Lily Pad, the city's first foray into the eat-and-drink business, serve alcohol? "They want to," he says, mentioning beer and wine and the TABC. So, with that out of the way ... jump, but watch the mud.

Our first stop is The Lily Pad, which, as we mentioned last week, will have a menu planned by Chef Doug Brown (Sala, Amuse, the Cliff Cafe). The generic "cafe" name will be replaced by the actual moniker in coming days. It's perched slightly above the park on a wooden deck; the chairs and tables will be movable beneath a canopy that will also have misters installed on the posts. "So that'll help during the summer," says Winters. The rooftop will also be green -- as in, covered in grass, "so people from the surrounding buildings won't have to look down on a plain ol' roof." Hence, the need for a rooftop irrigation system, as mentioned last week.

Next to that is a fountain filled with marble boulders, which Winters says will resemble a river: "Along the edge, it'll shoot out a stream of water that will sort of rush across the surface of the fountain. But it'll be very shallow so folks can walk out and get on the boulders. They're welcome to. Kids love water, and this'll be very, very shallow. It's also filtered, so we won't have a crypto issue. It also has some misting nozzles that won't shoot up very far."

We then wander into the shadow of the Statler, where, on the first floor, there's a hard-to-see blue sheet of plastic representing a failed attempt to shroud the old hotel. Winters says he hopes the garden "can make something happen at the Statler."

He points to the lonely square and says the city's working with the winning architects to come up with a better concept for a shroud.

"That's the shrouding concept that failed, and it has been rejected," he says. "Everyone agreed it's not appropriate, so they're looking at other options."

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