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Petaluma River Park project secures $1 million to start first phase of construction

The effort to transform the fallow, 20-acre McNear Peninsula into a public park took another step forward last week, snagging $1 million in funding for the first phase of construction.

Endowed by Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, the matching grant both infuses the Petaluma River Park project with needed capital and permanently preserves the peninsula as open space.

The funding comes four months after the community-led nonprofit leading the project, Petaluma River Park Foundation, bought the property for $1.05 million.

“We’re delighted and really honored and humbled,” said the group’s co-founder and board chair Seair Lorentz. “As such a young nonprofit, we are delighted and take that responsibility toward these funds seriously.”

Situated next to Steamer Landing Park and bounded by the Petaluma River, the river park is envisioned as a combined open space, event venue and gathering place. Improvements are expected to cost $4 million to $6 million, Lorentz said, with the grant funds going toward early planning and build-out. o/

The park’s central location, accessible from E D Street near the heart of downtown and alongside several new or planned developments, has drawn comparison’s to New York City’s Central Park.

New developments are also planned along the surrounding riverfront corridor, including a space destined to become the next headquarters for Amy’s Kitchen.

A human-made peninsula formed decades ago by dredge spoils, the McNear Peninsula has long been eyed as a prime location for a public park or recreation space. Mayor Teresa Barrett said it’s been under consideration for at least two decades, but plans never got off the ground.

“It’s kind of ideal timing for it to come together for whatever reasons now, because as we talk about (increasing density) in our town, now we know that peninsula will be an open space,” Barrett said.

Jen Kuszmar, interim acquisition manager for the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, also lauded the park’s proximity to the city’s core, a key factor in the the district’s decision to award the $1 million grant.

Funded by a quarter-cent sales tax, the district has protected more than 117,000 acres to date, this year committing $5.8 million to for six projects including the river park project.

“Then McNear peninsula is really well suited to be open space, especially with all the planned development around it,” Kuszmar said. “It will provide a nice respite for people to get outside and relax and play, which really fits the bill for us.”

Initial designs for the park include a preserved wetland area, a network of trails, planted native trees, as well as an outdoor amphitheater and small craft dock.

Lorentz said the first phase of construction, though, will be “invisible work,” including taking soil samples, planting native vegetation and beginning shoreline restoration.

Lorentz said the foundation and a consortium of more than 10 nonprofits and community organizations will begin community outreach this summer. Slated to last 12-18 months, the process will solicit feedback from residents and shape final design plans, she said.

“Even though we have a vision and a skeleton for what this park will look like, we are a small group of people,” Lorentz said. “So we are hard at work to prepare for a rather robust community engagement process.”

Lorentz encouraged residents to visit the peninsula, which is accessible via the Steamer Landing parking lot. The foundation recently installed a kiosk at the entrance with information about the future park, with hope it will attract curious Petalumans and lead to more robust community input, she said.

“The land is open right now,” Lorentz said. “People are welcome to come and experience the land. So few people have actually been on this property, so we really hope people will come and experience it and help imagine the future of this space.”

(Contact Kathryn Palmer at kathryn.palmer@arguscourier.com, on Twitter @KathrynPlmr.)

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