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Delayed Downtown Park Makes Quiet Debut : City life: After seven years of snags and a builder's bankruptcy, $20-million expanse of urban greenery opens.

October 29, 1994|LARRY GORDON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Seven years after its groundbreaking, the much-delayed Grand Hope Park in Downtown Los Angeles opened without fanfare this week, but with the controversial wrought-iron fence and gates designed to protect the $20-million investment in property, landscaping and artwork.

"It took a lot longer than anybody expected. It took a lot longer than anybody wanted," said Don Spivack, an official with the city Community Redevelopment Agency. CRA money built the 2.5-acre park, which will be run by a private group of nearby property owners.

Bounded by Grand Avenue, Hope and 9th streets and Olympic Boulevard, the park is supposed to spur redevelopment of Downtown's southern district and be a model for private management of public facilities. Among its features are a 53-foot-high clock tower, a fountain shaped like a snake, a colorful playground and a grassy slope decorated with coyote statues.

"I think it's great," said Zul Ahmed, a software developer who works nearby and was eating lunch with a friend on a park bench Friday. "When you are working on a stressful job, this is a good place to come and relax. Otherwise, you are cooped up in a concrete jungle."

He and most of the dozen or so other lunchtime visitors praised the eight-foot-high wrought-iron fence, which has 14 entrances open during the day. Los Angeles Councilwoman Rita Walters, who represents the area, unsuccessfully opposed adding the $179,000 fence last year, saying it would project an image of exclusion.

Michael Raichandani, who works in the adjacent Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, said the fence makes him feel safer in Grand Hope. "The park is big enough so you don't feel closed in."

Walters still wishes the fence hadn't been built, her planning deputy, John Sheppard, said. However, Sheppard conceded that the fence, designed by park architect Lawrence Halprin, "looks better than I imagined it would look like. It's not as imposing as I thought it would be."

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The fence construction, to ward off vandalism and graffiti, was just one cause for the much-belated opening. A more serious problem, officials said, arose when the park's builder declared bankruptcy two years ago when the oasis was nearly complete. Financial problems at the recently finished Renaissance Tower apartment building, on the park's south end, also hurt because the park was being used as a staging area for that delayed construction.

"It's been a long time coming, and now it's wonderful to see the kids in the playground," said Annie D. Johnson, vice president of the fashion school and president of Grand Hope Park Inc., the nonprofit organization that will run the park under a 50-year lease with the city.

The school, Renaissance Tower, the Metropolitan Apartments across Hope Street and a nearby office tower are to pay a total of $155,000 annually toward the park's $250,000 maintenance budget, Johnson said. To make up the difference, the CRA is to pay a maximum of $110,000 a year, capped at $880,000, until other planned building projects in the South Park neighborhood rise from recessionary limbo and can contribute funds.

In the past, several dedication and groundbreaking parties were held prematurely, causing what the CRA's Spivack called "a little embarrassment." This week, there were no speeches, no ceremonies, just the sound of lunch bags opening.

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