A new park gets ready to make a splash [updated]
June 4, 2010
The giant color-coded flow chart and to-do list have come down in the front room of Dawn McDivitt’s La Crescenta home. Her husband’s delighted.
As for all the folks about to have their parking, commuting and coffee-drinking patterns altered by the new Civic Park that McDivitt is planning, let’s just say they may not be singing such a happy tune. When McDivitt’s poster boards come down, that means the heavy machines are about to get to work on a 12-acre park in the heart of the Civic Center.
For downtown employees, patrons of the Music Center, people on jury duty and anyone else who lives, drives or walks in the area, this promises to be a summer to remember.
The $56 million park project is scheduled to come before the Board of Supervisors on June 29. If approved by supervisors and the joint powers authority overseeing the project, construction is expected to get underway in mid-July. That will trigger a series of logistical changes that, at least during the initial weeks, will upend many rituals of daily life in the Civic Center ecosystem.
So McDivitt—a capital projects manager in the county’s Chief Executive Office who’s been heading up the park building effort for the last couple of years—is on a one-woman communications crusade.
“Even if I’m having lunch with a friend who works at the courts, I can say, ‘Do you know about the Civic Park project?’ “ McDivitt says. “People have said to me, ‘Your [business] cards are all over the county.’ “
Which is fine with McDivitt, who’s eager to spread the word about a park that is intended to “remake an often overlooked public space into a spectacular community gathering space that will provide an iconic park for Los Angeles,” according to a February 16 letter to supervisors about the project.
The park will extend from the Music Center to City Hall. Building it means turning what is now the County Mall into a construction zone that will be largely off-limits for the next two years. When finished in June, 2012, the park will provide a long-awaited “sense of place” downtown—not to mention vistas stretching from Grand Avenue straight to City Hall, thanks to the relocation of some county parking ramps.
The park, to be built on the County Mall and the Criminal Courts building parking lot, will have four distinct levels featuring amenities ranging from a community terrace area showcasing plants from around the world to a restored historic Arthur J. Will Memorial fountain, complete with a new wade-able membrane pool. There also will be a performance lawn, a grand event lawn, ADA-accessible walkways, an area for chess players and even a dog run. Sixteen media jacks will make it possible to present, say, an opera on a big screen at the event lawn, or a concert heard by 18,000 people throughout the site.
In preparation for breaking ground on the park, which initially was conceived as part of the now-stalled Grand Avenue Project, McDivitt is holding weekly construction meetings with the builder, developer and representatives of nearby buildings, including the Music Center, where “South Pacific” is playing this summer at the Ahmanson and “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” will be at the Mark Taper Forum. Perhaps the biggest initial impact on Music Center employees will be the loss of their paid monthly parking spots; 300 will be relocating to new spaces during construction.
The Music Center’s chief operating officer, Howard Sherman, says construction-related inconveniences are no big deal.
“It’s a great thing for the Music Center to have this iconic park in our backyard,” he says. “It’s a minor pain for what we’ll be getting.”
McDivitt also has met with representatives of the Colburn School and the Los Angeles Unified School District, whose arts high school is on Grand Avenue, near the park site. And she holds monthly meetings with the parking and building managers of all the structures near the planned park. Through them, she hopes to spread the word about coming changes that will affect their workers.
At the downtown Criminal and Superior courthouses, which flank the new park site, the reality of life in a construction zone is sinking in.
“In both facilities, it’s going to be a significant disruption and inconvenience for everybody, judges and employees,” says Allan Parachini, Superior Court public information officer.
He notes that the Civic Park eventually will be a “great resource” for downtown. But he ticks off a list of difficulties that must be overcome—or tolerated—first. For starters, there will be noise, particularly in judges’ chambers, which will be closer to construction areas than the courtrooms. (McDivitt, who’s held a series of meetings with judges, says heavy duty demolition work will take place on weekends.) With one of the Superior Court’s entrances closed during construction, people entering the courthouse will likely experience more delays at security screening points at the remaining entrances. And the traditional Grand Avenue space for news conferences will be off-limits, as will the parking lot behind the Criminal Courts building where media satellite trucks have descended en masse during big trials.
“The only good part: we do note with gratitude that access to Starbucks will continue,” Parachini says
This Starbucks isn’t just any java joint. Although it’s tucked away and invisible from the street, this is the place that caffeinates much of the downtown bureaucracy, buoys armies of weary jurors and gives lawyers a place to park their overstuffed briefcases.
But it’s located in the County Mall construction zone between Superior Court and the Hall of Administration. So workers at the hall soon will encounter an 8-foot high barricade separating them from their quickest route to Starbucks—a barrier that may prove irritating to those in need of a fast coffee fix. For them, McDivitt has worked out a subterranean route that goes through the lower level of the Hall of Administration parking lot and up to the mall via escalator.
Eventually, the café will relocate to a new, bigger building in the park near the fountain. Putting the store out of commission was not really an option since Starbucks’ contract with the county runs through 2012.
For the public at large, there’s a bigger potential headache looming.
When construction starts, a rerouting of traffic into and out of the Hall of Administration garage by way of the Music Center will send more vehicles southbound on Hill Street and Grand Avenue toward the busy Metro station at 1st and Hill. With lots of pedestrians flocking to the station, traffic could back up.
“That’s what I’m worried about,” McDivitt says. To help ease backups, McDivitt is working with the city Department of Transportation on timing of the traffic signals and, possibly, on prohibiting turns from Hill onto 1st during peak hours.
It seems apt that McDivitt, 52, an L.A. native and lifelong outdoorswoman who loves to fish, drew this particular assignment. She certainly has no fear of challenges; she and her husband are planning to build a fishing lodge/bed and breakfast on land they own in tiny Bamfield, Canada, on Vancouver Island.
McDivitt’s boss, Jan Takata, says she has a “rare combination” of qualities that made her right for the job—lots of experience handling high-profile, complex projects and an understanding of finance. An added plus was that she was already working on the Grand Avenue Plan, of which the park is an offshoot.
“She’s terrific,” Takata says.
So far, McDivitt has been too busy to imagine exactly how she—a 20-year county employee—might take advantage of a new urban park that soon will take shape right outside her doorstep.
“I haven’t even thought of that,” she says. “I just want to get the shovel in the ground.”
To that end, she’s had to occupy herself mostly with what might go wrong—from traffic concerns to possible water issues in the garage.
“Part of my job is to anticipate,” she says. “For me, it’s, ‘What’s the worst case scenario?’ I’ve got to think of those things so we can prepare for it.”
For all her attention to detail, though, McDivitt doesn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea about the proliferation of poster board at her home during the project’s early days.
“It only took over the front room,” she says. “Just one wall.”
Updated 7/8/10: A groundbreaking for the project is scheduled for Thursday, July 15. The public is welcome; the invitation is here.