Cancer survivors' plaza in the works
$1 million grant will pay for reflection space near Lady Bird Lake.
In July 2002, Austin resident Leibel Harelik was diagnosed with prostate cancer and told he had six months to live.
Armed with advice from lung cancer survivor Richard Bloch, co-founder of the tax preparation service H&R Block, Harelik sought out other medical opinions, had surgery and underwent radiation and hormone treatments that have helped him live with, though not eradicate, his cancer.
Harelik and the Austin Parks Foundation have worked for seven years to find a location for a public plaza that will offer hope to cancer patients and survivors and their families. The nonprofit parks foundation has secured a $1 million grant from the R.A. Bloch Cancer Foundation to build the plaza. And the City of Austin has found space for it: 1.5 acres in Butler Park, near the Long Center for the Performing Arts and Palmer Events Center along the south shore of Lady Bird Lake.
At the plaza, visitors can walk "through the journey of cancer, from the beginning of diagnosis through treatment, and on to survivorship and hope," said Harelik, a 60-year-old former chef who now runs an Austin nonprofit he founded, the Prostate Cancer Resource Center.
The Bloch foundation has paid for 23 such plazas nationwide, including in Dallas, Chicago and New Orleans. Each plaza is required to have certain features, including a bronze sculpture with figures walking through a maze that symbolizes cancer, but their designs vary considerably.
Bloch was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1978 and, with treatment, lived until 2004, when he died of a heart attack.
Austin's plaza will be built around and partially over an existing pool. The first section will feature waterfalls and stone walls with doorways through which visitors can walk.
On the walls will be phrases about fighting cancer, such as "Cancer is the most curable of all chronic diseases," "Treat your cancer promptly, properly and thoroughly and have a positive mental attitude," and "Regardless of the prognosis, get an independent, qualified second opinion."
The second section will be a garden of native Texas plants and the bronze sculpture, titled "Cancer, There's Hope." The third part will be a walkway that loops back to the entrance and has inspirational sayings about recovering from cancer.
The water features are meant to create a sense of calm and healing, said Eric Schultz, a senior associate and landscape architect at TBG Partners, the firm designing the plaza. The walls in the first section will create a quiet place of reflection; they also symbolize the hurdles patients must overcome as they fight cancer, he said.
A few members of the city's parks board raised questions at a recent meeting about whether the site, not far from Riverside Drive and Auditorium Shores, would be too noisy for such a solemn subject. But Charlie McCabe, executive director of the Austin Parks Foundation, said the spot is ideal because it is visible enough to draw visitors but still have calming features.
McCabe said the parks foundation hopes to get the plaza built within a year, pending permits and approvals from the city. It won't require money from the city. About $900,000 of the Bloch grant will pay to design and build it; the other $100,000 will start an endowment to pay for maintenance.
The parks foundation and Harelik's organization plan to raise more money to embellish features at the plaza and increase the endowment fund.