Lake Eola is in need of a facelift. Here's what the person in charge of revitalizing the iconic park has to say about it

The past year has proven the importance of beautiful, accessible outdoor spaces. In Orlando, no outdoor space is as well used as Lake Eola. Since 1888, the park has provided a bit of reprieve for those in downtown Orlando, but as the region grows, the park has struggled to keep up. Now welcoming more than three million visitors a year, the park is in desperate need of a facelift.

Orlando is now in the process of developing a master plan for the park that will guide the park’s evolution for decades to come.

At the heart of the updated plan is Orlando Parks Division Manager John Perrone. After hearing the latest from the consulting groups and designers working on the project, Perrone spoke with Orlando Weekly about his vision.

When the last master plan was developed the park saw just a handful of major events per year, but the number of such events in the parks has since more than quadrupled.

“It was designed for a time when we were looking at crowds that were less than the size of the crowds that we are seeing now,” explained Perrone.

A preliminary design of the proposed Lake Eola Master Plan - IMAGE CITY OF ORLANDO | GAI CONSULTS
  • Image City of Orlando | GAI Consults
  • A preliminary design of the proposed Lake Eola Master Plan

The increased use of the park stressed already aging infrastructure, from sidewalks to restrooms to stormwater drainage. In addition, the City of Orlando was in a habitual whack-a-mole trying to stay on top of issues with the park, with each City department using their own updates from the 1987 Master Plan. Perrone explained these multiple issues, each being approached from a different department, were the primary factor in the decision to pursue this new Master Plan.

“As different departments started to look at these different kinds of projects that needed to happen, we found ourselves, looking at everything as a separate piece, and we weren't so sure that they were going to all look to look as well when it was all put together,” he said.

All of the park’s signature pieces remain, with each getting a facelift of some type.

IMAGE CITY OF ORLANDO | GAI CONSULTS
  • Image City of Orlando | GAI Consults

The proposal calls for a new shade shelter over the amphitheater and improved lighting on the bandshell. The Pulse memorial rainbow color scheme on the bandshell will remain. There would also be improved pedestrian flow around the amphitheater thanks to new boardwalks. In other areas, these boardwalks will give parkgoers a chance to draw closer to the water while also improving the lake's health thanks to large organic filtration systems.
The water quality within the lake is a major priority. Multiple roads throughout the downtown area drain into the lake. New bioswale style drainage will clean water coming into the lake, with the boardwalks acting as a buffer between the bioswales and the lake itself.

IMAGE CITY OF ORLANDO | GAI CONSULTS
  • Image City of Orlando | GAI Consults

A more advanced system is currently used for some of the water draining into the lake via the Japanese Rock Garden. This water filtration system will remain mostly intact, as will this calming section of the park, though with upgrades that help make it a more welcoming and accessible area.

Other projects include a new pier, new playgrounds, and wider sidewalks throughout.

The park is filled with gifts from sister cities and philanthropists, all of which will be preserved. The maze-like boardwalk surrounding the Chinese Ting is to be removed, allowing for an improved presentation of the multi-story gazebo-like structure. The improved filtration system where the Japanese Rock Garden is located won’t displace the black marble that was gifted to Orlando by its sister city Tainan, Taiwan.

IMAGE CITY OF ORLANDO | GAI CONSULTS
  • Image City of Orlando | GAI Consults

The updated Master Plan calls for the swan boats to move to the cove area near the Eola House. The busts and statues that are currently found in this area may be relocated. The city is now going through the process of cataloging them and researching the background on each.
“There's been suggestions of different places in the park,” explained Perrone. “Some people have thought that maybe they should be moved to other parks, but I don't think we're that far along where we would decide. They could stay right where they are.”

Perrone reassured us, “the city's dedicated to keeping that those things.”

See Art Orlando's contemporary art pieces installed around the park are to be integrated into the new Master Plan and will not be moved. There are also proposals to improve the bird island, now infamous for its awful smell and poop-covered trees, and to replace the bathroom buildings with newer ones. But Perrone warned not to get too hung up on various aspects of the proposed plan

While it shows updates to nearly every inch of the park, it is just a set of guidelines used for future projects.

“It’s a 30% master plan and is extremely conceptual. What that means is, we've completed the plans to 30%. There's no construction documents or anything like that at this time,” explained Perrone. “We look at the master plan; we determine what all those different projects that maybe need to happen now, which ones are the priorities. And then we have a vision to follow so that when they're all completed over a period of time, they look like they were designed together.”

Various projects and phases are to be priced out to allow city officials to make better-educated decisions on where to focus future investments in the park. By using the singular master plan, the park will be able to mature in a uniform way while also helping the city determine what projects are doable at any given time. Multiple grants and outside funding options will be pursued once the city determines a preliminary budget for various projects.

“We’re going to look at that total amount and determine whether it's a five-year plan or a ten-year plan, or a two-year plan.”

Perrone explained that funding will significantly determine how the park evolves with the city looking to grants and other outside funding sources. Still, he is reluctant to get his hopes up that all the proposals within the plan will happen right away.

“I would love to see [all the projects] happen as quickly as possible, but that’s just not going to happen,” he said.

The Lake Eola Master Plan isn’t the only park project the city is working on.

“We do have a parks master plan that is being developed now, you know, the other communities and we're trying to create, to where everybody is within a five-minute walk of the city park,” explained Perrone.

He noted the various parks added in the Lake Nona area along with the updates to Lake Fairview Park and its surrounding parks along with a massive reimagining of Lake Lorna Doone Park. There’s also a new park proposed for underneath I-4 that would provide an alternative venue for some events. But none of these parks are likely to usurp Lake Eola’s status in the community.

“Lake Eola Park is the city's gem. It’s the emblem that is represented on our flag, on our street signs, symbols, it’s featured on most signage that has anything to do with the city,” Perrone stated. “When you see a commercial for a sporting event, they're going to show the lake with the fountain in the middle of it. It's iconic. There's no other park that gets close to 3 million visitors a year. But it is a product of its popularity. And these updates need to be done to make sure that it's going to be that gem for many years to come.”

Courtesy Orlando Weekly

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