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Grand Park downtown opens with a flourish — and hopes of growing

The park gives downtown L.A. a major green space. Officials already are talking about expanding the park and linking it to other projects.

July 27, 2012|By Sam Allen, Los Angeles Times
  • Dancers perform in the renovated Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain during the grand opening of Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles.
Dancers perform in the renovated Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain during… (Francine Orr / Los Angeles…)

As they celebrated the opening of downtown Los Angeles' new Grand Park on Thursday, local officials and civic leaders were already talking about the possibility of expanding the space and connecting it to other projects along Grand Avenue.

The rectangular, 12-acre park, which stretches from the top of Bunker Hill to the base of City Hall, provides downtown with its first major green space, and officials hope it can become a new cultural hub for the region.

For all the excitement about the park, officials said that they are aware of its limitations and that the current footprint should be only a first step. The park offers a dramatic view of City Hall and a renovated Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain, but parts of it are obscured by two large government buildings: the Stanley Mosk Courthouse and the county Hall of Administration.

PHOTOS: Downtown L.A.'s Grand Park

The hope is that as more development occurs in the area, those buildings will be torn down, creating more space for the park and better linking it to the rest of downtown.

In 2006, officials discussed a plan to raze the courthouse and county administration building, but those talks died during the economic recession. At the opening ceremony Thursday, Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina said she wants to revisit the idea.

"These buildings have to come down, that's the one thing we really need," Molina said. "We need more green and more trees and more open space for people to enjoy."

When such a plan would be feasible remains unclear, as the state government, which owns the courthouse, and the county have been struggling financially. Both the courthouse and county hall have suffered damage from earthquakes. A county study found that a new headquarters would be more efficient and cheaper to operate than the current building.

But building new facilities would be costly and time-consuming. A few years ago, the Los Angeles Police Department completed a new headquarters to replace the aging Parker Center at a price tag of more than $400 million.

Still, billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad, who helped launch an effort to redevelop Grand Avenue 12 years ago, said this week that he expected both buildings to be torn down at some point in the future.

"It's inevitable," said Nelson Rising, a real estate developer and former chairman of a nonprofit that oversaw the park project. "It's just a question of what funding sources will be there.… We need the economy to be more robust."

Grand Park was conceived in the early 2000s as part of the billion-dollar plan to remake Grand Avenue into a cultural center with luxury condos, a five-star hotel and upscale retail shops. Much of that project has been stalled by the bad economy. But the park moved forward, thanks to a $50-million down payment from Related Cos., the developer on the project.

Bea Hsu, a vice president for Related California, called the park's opening a "major milestone" for the broader Grand Avenue project. She said the firm expects to start construction this year on an apartment tower down the block that will connect to an art museum Broad is building at the corner of 1st Street and Grand.

"For us, Grand Avenue is a long-term investment, to which we bring a long-term commitment," she said.

Hsu, Rising and Broad were among the hundreds in attendance Thursday as the upper half of the park officially opened to the public.

The hourlong ceremony included speeches from politicians, live music, a reading from California's poet laureate and a restarting of the Will fountain. Dancers in blue bodysuits leaped and tumbled in the fountain while children marched in brightly colored outfits.

"Today is basically a glimpse of the beauty and magic that could happen in this park," said Lucas Rivera, the park's recently hired director. "It's just a teaser."

Rivera said Grand Park's biggest asset is its flexibility. Events such as concerts, film screenings and farmers markets will be coordinated through a partnership with the Music Center, which also manages the adjacent Disney Concert Hall, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and Ahmanson Theater.

On Thursday, officials also announced a last-minute change to the hours at Grand Park: Instead of closing at dusk, as originally planned, it will remain open until 10 each night. Dawn McDivitt, project manager for Los Angeles County, said the change stemmed from a desire to make the park more interactive.

"We didn't want people to feel they were in trouble if they just wanted to walk through," she said.

Security remains a concern at Grand Park because of the large homeless population downtown and the recent flare-ups between police and activist groups such asOccupy L.A.

Molina said the county would take a "firm and vigilant" approach toward security at the park, with guards from the Music Center working in conjunction with the Sheriff's Department. "We don't want to throw protesters out … but we want this to be a park for everyone to enjoy," she said.

Grand Park seemed to be a hit in its first hours, as downtown workers gathered for their lunch breaks, children played in the fountain's new "splash pad" and people walked their dogs.

"It's fantastic just to have a place to picnic and enjoy an afternoon," said KT Somero, a music librarian at the nearby Colburn School.

"I want to come here to take a nap every day," said Megan Hamilton, a coordinator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, who was lying on one of Grand Park's lawns with two co-workers. "It's a really nice, Zen spot right in the middle of downtown."

sam.allen@latimes.com

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