Edward Durell Stone Garden Park Plan Revived With NEA Grant Funding

Unfinished plans for an extensive garden park at Greers Ferry Lake, designed by iconic architect Edward Durell Stone, will be updated and completed thanks to a $40,000 Art Works grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The University of Arkansas Community Design Center will lead a team to update and revise the design master plan and prepare a feasibility report.

Other members of the design team are Marlon Blackwell Architect of Fayetteville and Ecological Design Group Inc., of Little Rock.

The original plan for the garden park dates back more than 50 years, when then-U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright commissioned his friend Stone to produce a master plan for the site. Stone, a Fayetteville native, was the renowned architect for Radio City Music Hall and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City; the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington; and the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi. Stone worked on a first draft, but it was never completed.

This revived project will update Stone’s proposal with modern standards, contemporize its relationship with the hydrology of the site, determine a financial and regulatory pathway to construct the project, and program supplementary activities to complement the existing tourism of Greers Ferry Lake. The project site also will be reduced to 170 acres rather than the ambitious 300 acres in the original plan.

Tourism is the top industry in Cleburne County and the 40,000-acre Greers Ferry Lake has long been a popular attraction. But County Judge Jerry Holmes remembers that in the late 1970s the lake drew some 100,000 people for an average summer weekend. That number has dropped with competition from more tourist sites in the state.

“We have got to do something to bring a portion of those people back,” Holmes said.

Holmes is excited about the renewed interest in the plan and its potential for bringing visitors from across the country and around the world, along with new hotels, restaurants and other amenities to serve them. Even though the park has been on hold for 50 years, “this will be, still today, the first project of its kind in the United States,” he said.

“This is a legacy project unlike any other in the state, even beyond the fact that E.D. Stone is the author,” said Steve Luoni, director of the Community Design Center. “Stone’s proposal recombines architecture, landscape architecture, and large-scale civil engineering in a sweeping and magnificent site design. Our key challenge will be to reconcile the modest scale of programs with Stone’s outsized choreography of spaces – a dream project, but one that will keep us awake at night.”

Other agencies involved in this project include ETM Associates LLC, public space management specialists; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and state agencies such as the governor’s office, the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. State agencies will provide $60,000 in funding collectively.

The Community Design Center is an outreach program of the Fay Jones School of Architecture at the University of Arkansas with an international reputation for its design projects, including the Pettaway Neighborhood Main Street Revitalization Plan. Marlon Blackwell Architect is an internationally recognized Fayetteville-based architecture firm, and Blackwell is head of the architecture department in the Fay Jones School. Ecological Design Group Inc. is one of the leading landscape architecture and civil engineering firms in Arkansas. Members of the design team will provide in-kind matches for professional services.

NEA Art Works grants support the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence, public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and enhancement of the livability of communities through the arts.