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Pier Park is nearly shipshape

Royal City residents will soon be able to set foot on the city's new park along the Fraser River. Westminster Pier Park, a 600-metre long linear park on the city's waterfront, will open to the public in the next few weeks.

Royal City residents will soon be able to set foot on the city's new park along the Fraser River.

Westminster Pier Park, a 600-metre long linear park on the city's waterfront, will open to the public in the next few weeks. Project manager Dugal Purdie anticipates the park will open in late April or early May.

Westminster Pier Park, which stretches from Begbie to Elliott streets along the waterfront, includes two playgrounds, a sports court, a finger pier that stretches out over the Fraser River, a "festival lawn" gathering area that can accommodate a thousand people, a sports court, a concession, washrooms (for men, women and families), walking paths and more.

Dean Gibson, the city's director of parks, culture and recreation, said a few things need to be done before the park opens to the public, such as finishing the washrooms, completing the handrails along the waterfront walkway, and connecting the main power supply to the park.

"That's the major stuff that's between us and opening the park," he said. "As with any project there are small items that will be worked on for many weeks to come. That shouldn't affect the opening of the park."

The City of New Westminster has negotiated access agreements with Larco, which owns the site located between Westminster Pier Park and River Market. It's through this area that residents will enter Westminster Pier Park.

"On opening day there is only one way in and one way out of the park," Gibson said. "We are currently in the design stage right now for a pedestrian connection that comes off the parkade, over Front Street, over the railroad tracks and descends into the park."

The city has provided $1.25 million in this year's budget for the overpass and hopes it would be complete by the end of 2012.

Park goers will be able to park at the pay parking lot next to River Market and on the parkade. The city currently has no plans for an on-site parking lot for the park.

The City of New Westminster purchased the brownfield site in 2009 for $8 million, and the city, the province and the federal governments each contributed $8.3 million toward the park's construction. The city has since won two awards for brownfield remediation for Westminster Pier Park.

Jim Lowrie, the city's director of engineering, said the city expects to get the Ministry of Environment approvals related to environmental remediation within the next couple of weeks.

City staff will be tallying the costs in the next month or so and will report to council on whether the project has been completed on budget. Purdie said the project will come in "so damn close" to budget that he's pleased.

As people enter the park, one of the first things they will see is a "pile park" comprised of wood piles jutting out of the ground.

"Given that Westminster Pier was a pier, with wooden piles supporting the structure, it is intended to acknowledge the former use of the site," Gibson said. "Parks need some vertical elements to give them a little bit of character."

This area of the park is also the site of an "undulating lawn" that provides an unprogrammed area where kids can play.

"It's to mimic the waves. When you see a tugboat or any barge moving up and down the river, that's the wave action you see in the river," Gibson said of the lawn. "It is sort of a whimsical area where I am sure the little kids will be playing."

Not far from the "pile park" and the undulating lawn area, park goers will see a riparian area in the river. Plants and soil suited for a riparian habitat were chosen and planted in an area below the walkway.

Westminster Pier Park has two playgrounds for children. One features playground equipment - as well as two large tree stumps.

"There were no big trees here. They were brought in from some other job where they were being dug up," Purdie said. "It's basically part of a climbing children's play area. This is one of the areas where they say don't give them something fabricated, give them something natural."

The riverfront boardwalk, which includes wood and paved portions, includes numerous benches.

"All of our park benches have dedication opportunities," Gibson said. "We will publicly be releasing that information on our website. We have been taking names and numbers from people for the last several months. We have a pretty good list.

I anticipate these will go fairly quickly. They are the only (dedication) opportunity on the riverfront. All of our other benches on the esplanade have been sold out for years and years."

Some of the benches are backless, so people can choose to face the river or the park. Near the Lytton Square structure, oversized deck chairs can also be flipped from side to side.

"It depends if you want to face the sun or face away from the sun," Purdie said.

"If you want to keep the glare off your computer screen, turn it the other way. The Wifi is at the top of the pole behind you. If you need a coffee, coffee and washrooms are right there."

One of Westminster Pier Park's public art features is a memory band that extends along the length of the park.

Metal plaques includes words that represent people, places and events from the city's history such as Wait for Me Daddy, New Westminster Bridge, Queens borough, Woodlands, Queen's Park, Sapperton, Raymond Burr, Samson, Lacrosse and Woodward's.

Additional public art is found next to the Lytton Square structure, where images of the city's history can be found on a seat wall on either side of the building that's been designed to honour Lytton Square - home to the city's first market.

"All the panels were specifically picked with images that are kids from the past in the city," Gibson said of the first seat wall. "The other seat wall that's closer to the concession building has a variety of different images."

An interpretive panel explaining the context of the different images will be set up in the park.

The Lytton Square building will include a concession to be operated by a private operator and washrooms. A viewing platform, offering views of the Fraser River, is located on top of the building.

Next to the Lytton Square building is the area known as the festival lawn, the park's central gathering area.

"This is the place where we will have concerts in the park. At the far end is where the stage will be set up," Gibson said. "You can imagine people bringing their blankets and lawn chairs and spreading out."

A large paved surface located next to the festive lawn has been dubbed the Timber Wharf because it still stands on timber pilings.

New pilings were installed in other sections of the park to update the infrastructure, but the pilings in this area will be upgraded in a future phase of the park

Programming for the Timber Wharf section of the park has yet to be determined.

"This is a perfect place for bike riding, kite flying, ball hockey, remote control cars," Gibson said. "The fact that it's wide open, in my view, should not be viewed as if it is a bad thing. It's completely safe. It's flat, it's accessible."

Jim Lowrie, the city's director of engineering, said the city is currently having the load capacity for the Timber Wharf assessed. The results of that analysis will dictate the types of uses that would be permitted.

Sloping lawns next to the festival lawn also provide a place where people can sit and enjoy river views.

In addition to the waterfront walkway, park goers will get a sense of the park's riverfront setting by walking along a "finger pier" that juts out over the water and by viewing the river in an area of Timber Wharf that was once home to an industrial warehouse.

Another pedestrian path, which also serves as a service road, leads park goers to an area behind Lytton Square that's home to picnic tables overlooking the river, a sports court that can accommodate basketball, skateboarding and other sports and a demonstration garden offered by the Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine.

Claude LeDoux, the city's horticulturist, is confident residents will be impressed with the park.

"It is gorgeous," he said. "It's extremely striking. It is a beautiful setting. I know people are going to love it."

Mayor Wayne Wright, who has supported the city's decision to buy the site and develop the park from the get-go, agrees.

"The kids are going to have a unique place," he said. "Their city is going to have a park they can be really, really proud of."