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Report: Last Night's Grand Avenue Civic Park Meeting

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Last night's Grand Avenue Civic Park meeting was a first look into what may one day be -- for better or worse -- a Downtown LA version of Chicago's Millennium Park. The 16-acre park, which will lie between City Hall and the Music Center in Downtown's Civic Center, is being squeezed into four parcels surrounded by County administrative buildings to the north and south and the abandoned footprint of the old State Office Building to the southeast.

While a budget of $56 million has been allotted ($50 million of which came from Related Cos., the developer of the Grand Avenue Project to the south), most of that money is going toward improving access and sight lines by reworking stairs and parking ramps throughout the project. According to project architects Rios Clementi Hale, an application for $30 million in Prop 1C park bond funds has been submitted.

So how does the Joint Powers Authority (JPA) expect to bring in members of the non-juror public? Programming, programming, programming. On the table are farmers' markets, World Cup games on a Jumbotron, children's events, public dinners and dances, performance art, outdoor symphonies, and so much ethnic dining it would make any foodie proud.

Four distinct parcels will have their own character and programming:

1) Fountain Plaza: Two new terraced stairways will cover the existing spiral parking ramps on Grand Avenue, dramatically increasing access to the park from the west. The politically untouchable fountain will nonetheless be reworked as a "more interactive, programmed" piece with upgraded infrastructure and a new pedestrian bridge over the water. Walls will be removed and a restaurant/cafe option is being explored.

2) Civic Garden: Parking ramps will be covered by a "vine trellis," giving the park a larger presence on Hill Street. Barrier walls will be removed and a performance lawn will be created. Despite all these changes, the JPA says this will be where they will use their "lightest hand" in the redesign.

3) Community Terrace: More usable space will be made available at the Court of Flags, with the flags being moved to the edges of the parcel. The current stairway is slated for demolition and will become a broader terraced staircase with improved accessibility. Multi-colored movable shaders would frame views of City Hall, creating an "outdoor living room" for public dinners, galas, fundraisers and so forth.

4) The Green: Award for most dramatically changed parcel goes to the Green, a large events lawn at the foot of City Hall that's replacing a parking lot. A "viewing bridge" will span Broadway, leading to a multi-use marketplace for more farmers' markets and a restaurant at the end of the Green. If more funding is secured, the old State Building footprint will be integrated as more open space.

Most of the teeth-gnashing to the project came during the public comment part of the presentation, with speakers (roughly 100 showed up to the meeting), with people taking issue with the orange-and-yellow color scheme of the architectural pieces (They're just placeholders, people); general lack of parking and traffic issues; and impeded pedestrian flow. One opinionated speaker noted that the design is already dated -- even though designs haven't been completed yet.

When the question of how to define the park's overall style arose -- "Is it European? Is it Spanish? Is it Modern?" -- the befuddled committee couldn't answer. Luckily Supervisor Molina piped in with, "It's green."

Notable quote: A fired-up Sup. Molina responds to a question about building a parking lot below the events lawn in order to replace lost spaces with, "Why do you want a parking lot there when you can walk a block from the other one?"

Construction is set to start in Spring 2009, with completion in Summer 2011.