Grand Park set to be unveiled

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Grand Park, downtown’s largest open space, is set to be unveiled on Thursday. The 12-acre park will transform four blocks of downtown’s Civic Center, next to City Hall. But not everyone thinks the park is a positive development.

The park is located in what’s otherwise an ugly block of cement office buildings. It’s bordered by the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration and the Stanley Mosk Courthouse to the east and west, the Department of Water and Power to the north, and City Hall to the south. It’s a place where government functionaries take lunch breaks and jurors escape the stifling courtroom atmosphere.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina was a champion of the project to upgrade Grand Park. In 2006 she helped convince a New-York based developer to pay $50 million up front for the park, and construction began in 2010.

“I just started asking questions about what would be utilized for public space, and what would be the public benefit,” Molina said. ” Since it was county land, it did belong to county taxpayers.”

The Grand Avenue Project is set to include a boutique hotel, condos, shopping and a movie theater, but it’s been delayed because of a lack of financing. The sour economy has taken its toll, and that’s just fine for some critics of this development.

“Who benefits from this park space? It’s disproportionately going to be the people who are gentrifying downtown,” said Robert Garcia, founding director of City Project, a non-profit that advocates for green space in Los Angeles. “And in the meantime the most under-served communities go without.”

While Garcia wants more parks, he argues that the developer agreed to pay for the park knowing it would boost tourism and spending in the area, and real estate values. “They more than get their money back, otherwise they wouldn’t do it,” Garcia said. “Corporations are not in the business of giving gifts.”

Garcia says a better approach would be a strategic plan to upgrade parks throughout the city and county, benefiting all groups of people.

A concrete terrace at the Grand Avenue entrance features bright-pink picnic tables and chairs, splayed out like sunbathers. Wheelchair-accessible ramps wind through gardens, planted with drought-tolerant shrubs and trees from multiple continents.

Photos by Avishay Artsy. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

“It was really this idea of bringing different plant communities from around the world and creating these special gardens that celebrate the multicultural identity of Los Angeles,” said Architect Tony Paradowski with the firm Rios Clementi Hale, the designer of the park.

There’s a Starbucks, of course. At the next level a large fountain encircled by benches features light shows every hour. Below that is a half-inch deep pool with bubbling jets for kids to splash around in and adults to walk through. Past the fountain is a performance lawn. LA County is partnering with The Music Center to plan events – everything from circus performers to big rock concerts. Speakers installed throughout the park can pipe in music.

“So many people are coming here for a single desination reason – Music Center, jury duty, cathedral,” said Thor Steingraber, Vice President of Programming with the Music Center. “We hope to add another set of reasons.”

Supervisor Molina says that when she looks down from her eighth floor office, she sees a space that’s greener than before. Still she says there’s more that can be done. “The dream fulfilled will be when those two buildings are out of the way, that is the old courthouse and our administrative home,” Molina said. “I would like to see the whole area become a green space and I think we’ll have the opportunity to green the whole area at that point in time.”

Molina admits that probably won’t happen in her lifetime. But in the meantime, the park’s grand opening is Thursday, and this weekend is filled with live music and a dance event. All are free and open to the public.