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Civic Center Oasis

November 25, 2001

Talk about an understatement: "This city doesn't have a great track record ... of creating successful public places." But developer Dan Rosenfeld, whose understatement that is, sees a chance to reverse the trend--if local officials stay focused.

Over the summer, the Los Angeles City Council took the first steps toward creation of a long-planned public plaza in the heart of downtown by finalizing a complicated land swap with the state and budgeting $25 million. Under the swap, the city would get most of the block bordered by 1st, 2nd, Main and Spring streets. The $25 million would let the city purchase a strip of land along 1st Street, now occupied by a collection of small businesses including fast food joints, a parking lot and vacant storefronts.

The idea is to create a plaza at the foot of City Hall. Landscaped open space rather than garbage-strewn asphalt spaces. An attractive public gathering place in Los Angeles. Imagine that. The plaza is part of a 1997 master plan to perk up the gritty north end of downtown following the City Hall renovation. The plan includes elaborate sloping gardens linking City Hall on its western border with the Music Center and county office buildings.

The ideas are swell. Heaven knows, this city needs a central meeting place for celebrations or for office workers to soak up the midday sun. The trees and lawns planned would also do wonders to draw businesses and foot traffic back to the area. But ideas aren't enough. What's needed now is unyielding pressure to move forward. Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose district includes the Civic Center, supports the project. But the leisurely timetable--Caltrans, one of the tenants of the space that would be renovated, won't be ready to hand over its property on Spring Street until 2005--and the lack of a final price tag for the plaza means that the project could easily stall, like so many other grand plans for downtown. We hope it doesn't.

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