MOUNT VERNON — With new restaurants, businesses, cultural venues, and the creation of second-story living spaces, downtown Mount Vernon is in a state of renaissance.
With this in mind, Mount Vernon Nazarene University said Monday in a press release it is eager to partner with The Ariel Foundation on a project that will continue the evolution of the historic business district into a livable, walkable community.
Buchwald Plaza, on the corner of South Main and West Gambier streets, is being reimagined into South Main Plaza, a space that will bring new energy and increased vitality into the neighborhood by creating a whimsical water feature focal point. Inspired by world-renowned landscape architect Claude Cormier’s fountain in Toronto’s Berczy Park, South Main Plaza’s fountain will include painted cast iron sculptures of 18 dogs, one cat, a pair of birds, a pony and an apple.
“It is exciting to see our downtown buzzing with a flurry of activity and vibrancy when so many similarly-sized downtowns feel somewhat abandoned,” said Jen Odenweller, executive director of The Ariel Foundation. “We are both proud and thankful to partner with our friends at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in continuing the development of a special space that brings community members together in such a unique and fun way, while providing an attraction for visitors alike.”
The idea behind the fountain came after Gambier resident Phil Samuell saw photos of the Toronto fountain on the Internet. Samuell and his wife, Mary, eventually met Cormier and visited the park.
“My wife and I sat near the fountain in Berczy Park for several hours, watching how people reacted to the fountain,” Samuell said. “It brought a smile to every face, regardless of age. The fountain speaks to the happiness dogs bring to the world, and to the pure joy they display when they are playing in the water, searching for a bone or delighting children.”
Claude Cormier & Associates’ award-winning designs have created inviting living spaces in urban areas across Canada and the United States. A recent visit to the South Main Street site allowed Cormier the opportunity to understand the space and conceptualize how his work will reshape the functionality of the MVNU property.
“This fountain will draw people downtown. They will want to hang out with the dogs while they eat lunch, meet with friends, or just relax and enjoy the humor and joy of life the fountain represents,” Samuell said.
The project, funded through a grant from the Ariel Foundation, and sponsored by other generous community donors, will bring new life to the downtown corner mixing the tones of a studious educational corridor with the whimsy and playfulness of our favorite four-legged family members.
“The placement of the plaza next to the Buchwald Center art building is fortuitous in that it will bring guests into our space,” said Dr. Henry W. Spaulding II, MVNU president. “It will allow our students to showcase their talent. It will open the eyes of the community to the creative energies of our students and faculty.”
MVNU is proud of its continued partnership with Ariel Foundation and is grateful to those community members contributing to portions of the project that will provide an endowment for future maintenance needs.
Various sponsorship opportunities are available including sponsoring one of the sculptures or a bench, or celebrating the life of a four-legged family member on the Plaza’s donor wall. Those interested in being a part of the project may do so by visiting www.mvnu.edu/give and designating the gift to “South Main Plaza” or contacting Justin Nowicki, MVNU Director of Development at 740-397-9000, Ext 4302. Donations to the project will establish an endowment at the Knox County Foundation to cover future maintenance of the Plaza. The first $50,000 in donations to the endowment will be matched dollar-for-dollar.
“Given the public nature of South Main Plaza, it will be essential to ensure that proper operation and presentation of the space continues. The endowment will provide resources for timely care of the facility,” Spaulding said.
Work will begin on the space May 6. Initial construction plans will include disassembly of the pergola (which will be repurposed for another downtown green space project) and design for plumbing necessary to spray water from 18 dog sculptures. The Dr. Jane Payne historic marker will remain part of the plaza, according to Spaulding.
“A decade ago, the University joined with others to revitalize the downtown area,” Spaulding said. “We renovated space for our art students, nursing and health students and engineering students. We operate a coffee shop and hotel that bring many people to the area. With the completion of the lofts, even more people will be downtown.
"I believe Mount Vernon will be the model community to show the value of partnering for growth.”