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Panelists Say Pershing Square Fixes Don't Require Starting Over

By Samantha Page
Published: Friday, March 13, 2009, at 01:32PM
Aloud Panel Discussion Sketch Joe Linton [handmaderansomnotes.wordpress.com]

Sketch by Joe Linton of the panelists at Wednesday's event.

A panel of urban planners, architects and activists agreed Wednesday that making Pershing Square into a successful park won't take a complete redesign.

Key complaints centered around the park's walls, which restrict visibility and mobility, a lack of amenities and the parking garage ramps. Yet, according to panelists, vast improvements to the park would take only limited changes and investment.

Moderator Christopher Hawthorne, of the LA Times, summed up the session by saying, "There seems to be a real agreement that from a design point of view this is easier than we have made it out to be."

Dan Biederman, co-founder of the Bryant Park Corporation in New York and a frequent BID consultant, said, "Programming will win the day at Pershing Square." He suggested movable chairs, chess and checkers facilities, concessions and a reading room, among other draws to the public.

However, panelists agreed programming improvements would only reach so far. "I think the walls are the biggest impediment to the park," said Kathleen Bullard, especially since the obstructed line of sight creates a sense of insecurity.

Doug Suisman called for "selective demolition," to Pershing Square, but said that the parking ramps "remain the outstanding issue." Ramps into and out of the garage under Pershing Square line all four sides of the park.

Biederman warned against thinking the park could only succeed if a huge investment was made. "Do the $2.3 million [improvement] or the $23 million, if you have to, but don't make it into a $230 million project," he said.

Panelists also debated the type of trees in the park (are palm trees emblematic or problematic?), whether the parking garage should stay or go and whether, as Lewis MacAdams suggested, the name of the park should be changed from that of "the guy who invaded Mexico."

Despite these quibbles, Downtowners will be able to look forward to some immediate improvements, said Barry Sanders, President of the Parks and Recreation Commission. Just after Pershing Square hosts its St. Patrick's Day celebration next week, work will begin on the northeast corner of the park, where steps will be replaced and initial work on the Palm Court renovations will begin. Planning to put a dog park in Pershing Square is moving forward, but has not yet been finalized.

"No RFPs," Sanders said. "We're done wasting time."

The event, hosted by Aloud, was the second of a two-part public forum that began last month with "Does LA Need a Downtown" at RedCAT.

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