The most eye-catching detail of the new Canal Park might just be the giant light cube that sits in the center atop the Park Tavern restaurant.
It is 20-by-20-feet and has large projection panels that display artwork and photographs of local artists, as well as real-time images of visitors to the site.
But the real crowd-pleaser Friday was the 10,000-square-foot linear ice skating path. To celebrate the park’s grand opening, kids and adults were invited to take part in a two-hour free skate.
November winds whipped around the crowd gathered for the unveiling of the $26.5 million project that officials hope will bring much-needed recreation and green space to the neighborhood and become a central meeting place.
“Geographically, Canal Park sits in the center of the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood,” said Chris Van Arsdale, executive director of the nonprofit Canal Park Development Association and project manager for the site. “As more residential developments are completed in the adjacent lots, the park will be a living room for the neighborhood.”
It also will be a model of green building, officials said. It has a storm-water management system designed to collect 100 percent of the rainwater from the three-block stretch of the park and hold up to 80,000 gallons from neighboring rooftops and city blocks.
The collected rainfall, estimated to generate 1.5 million gallons of reused water annually, will be pumped through a filtration system and reused for the ice rink, irrigation and restroom facilities, Van Arsdale said.
The site also will have electric-car-charging stations, only the second on-street location in the District.
The park, between M and Second streets SE and a block from the Navy Yard Metro stop, has had a history marked by industrial and commercial use, and eventually it was abandoned. In the late 1800s, it was part of a working canal between the Anacostia River and the Potomac. More recently, the site was used as a parking lot for D.C. school buses.
In the late 1990s, when real estate developer Chris Smith of D.C.-based WC Smith proposed to then-Deputy Mayor Eric Price that the site become a park, the idea seemed promising but far-fetched, Smith said. There were relatively few neighborhood amenities.
“For decades, this whole part of the District was Godforsaken,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said Friday at the park’s opening.
In the course of the next decade, further interest was generated in the project. In 2000, the federal government awarded a $2.5 million grant to the Canal Park developers. Real estate developer JBG matched the grant. The District put in $13.5 million, and the D.C. Housing Authority allocated $3.9 million in funding from a new-market tax credit to bring housing to the site, too.
Next to the park sits 1,800 mixed-income units that replaced 700 public housing units from across the District.
The park, which took about 18 months to design, is a pilot project for the Sustainable Sites Initiative and a candidate for LEED Gold certification.
Van Arsdale said that both Olin landscapers and Studio architecture, which designed the park, wanted to “push the sustainability envelope” and worked closely with the U.S. Green Building Council.
The park’s features include two fountains — one will run year-round while the other contains a series of 40 jets for people to play in during the warmer months.
Three stainless steel sculptures, created by artist David Hess, are twisted into curved lines that are meant to evoke the motion of water, a tribute to the park’s history on the canal.
The sculptures are not merely aesthetic; children can also play on them.
A few children were among the crowd Friday, including ice skaters from DC Inner City Excellence.
The kids, ages 6 and older, were on hand to do skating demonstrations, while their coach and the founder of DC ICE, three-time Olympic speed skater Nathaniel Mills, skated nearby.
“Ice time in the District is really scarce,” Mills said. “All of the indoor arenas are usually occupied by hockey teams because they pay the bills, and we typically have to teach the kids on roller blades. The kids are the true beneficiaries of this place.”