Medford’s Riverside Plaza to be redeveloped as a community gathering space

An artist's impression of the new Riverside Plaza shows more seating and an updated bus shelter. (Courtesy Clodagh Stoker-Long)

The City of Medford is planning the redevelopment of Riverside Plaza in Medford Square to become a more usable community gathering space. The city was formally awarded a $250,000 grant from the federal government to help fund the plaza’s construction in November 2016, according to Clodagh Stoker-Long, an economic development planner in Medford’s Office of Community Development. 

Medford City Councillor Michael Marks was the original author of a resolution that sought to repurpose the bus shelter on Riverside Avenue due to its degraded condition and inconvenient location. Marks said that one of the goals of the project is to create opportunities for cultural events and recreational activities that will bring the community together.

“[The plaza] will be used now as a gathering spot in the square, a place [where] we can have entertainment, a place that we could use to show art exhibits and a place that will be much more useful for residents,” Marks said. “We’re going to have a staging area, so there will be a place where people can come and do live performances. There will be an interactive play structure or several play structures throughout the area.”

According to Deneen Crosby, the principal and director of landscape architecture at Crosby Schlessinger Smallridge LLC, the firm designing the plaza, the renovated plaza will include several new features that will make the area more appealing as a community gathering place.

“[There will be an] outdoor stage, sculptural exercise area, outdoor chimes … picnic tables and movable tables and chairs, movable Adirondack chairs, a plaza for events with lighting [and an] interpretive sign about the burial ground [off Salem Street],” Crosby told the Daily in an email.

According to Marks, the planning for the plaza’s redesign has been a community-driven initiative, and Medford’s Office of Community Development held several meetings to collect community input. Marks emphasized that this will be a unique project and said that he is not currently aware of any comparable gathering spaces in any of the city’s five business districts. Marks is hopeful that these kinds of spaces will eventually spread to the rest of the community.

“We are in the process of revitalizing the downtown business district, and this will act as one aspect of bringing more foot traffic into the square,” Marks said. “It’s really important to have areas in business districts where people can sit down, meet their neighbors, meet other people in the community and have a sense of belonging.”

Stoker-Long has also been working on the project since it was proposed. She said that construction will be completed by June 2018.

“We submitted a grant application for the development about this time last year. The project is to begin construction after the first of July, and according to the grant commission, it must be finished by the following June,” Stoker-Long said.

According to Stoker-Long, the city projects that total construction costs for the project will be $550,000, which will leave about $300,000 in costs for the city after the federal grant of $250,000.

According to Crosby, the design will be finished in March and the project will be constructed by the end of 2017. Crosby said that the project has not faced any major challenges so far but that budgets are always a limiting factor in construction projects.

“[The project] has gone pretty smoothly. There are always different aesthetic tastes but in general people have been happy with the design work. The budget is a challenge as we want to use very nice materials and we can’t afford everything we’d like,” Crosby told the Daily in an email.

Stoker-Long added that historic value of the area and its potential as a center for community events are a few of the reasons why the renovation of the square will be successful.

“[The plaza is] adjacent to a really beautiful historic cemetery of which people may not be aware, but it’s also in a part of Medford Square which needs to be revitalized,” Stoker-Long said. “This was an opportunity to create a really special space there, which would not only be a recreational space where people could sit and have lunch, but also the idea is that it would be a functional space where there could be a sort of outdoor theater, a farmer’s market.”

According to Stoker-Long, many different community partners were consulted during the planning process, including an architect, the local arts community and other stakeholders. Crosby also emphasized that the community played an active role in planning different aspects of the redevelopment.

“The arts community gave us a lot of information on what kinds of events could happen there so that we could plan for them,” Crosby told the Daily in an email. “So there’s an informal stage with lots [of] gating and electricity. The historic commission and others gave us info on the burial ground and it led to an idea to use rubbings of some of the beautiful stones in the design of the pavements.” 

Sharon Hepburn owns Mystic Coffee Roaster, a local coffee shop on Riverside Avenue, and attended the initial meeting where the original plan for the redevelopment of the plaza was presented. Hepburn hopes that the project will foster increased community engagement.

“I think it’s going to be really good for the square,” Hepburn said. “And hopefully [the redevelopment] will encourage people to come in on their own. Art exhibits there would be fantastic and I’m hoping that the city would allow musicians there.”