By James Palen / The Daily Transcript / Sept. 23, 2011
This Wednesday [Sept 28th], the Centre City Development Corp. will decide whether to approve the final schematic design plans for the redevelopment of Horton Plaza.
By unanimous decision, and before the plaza’s lead designer, the CCDC Advisory Committee voted last Wednesday to recommend the acceptance of that plan. One week earlier, on Sept. 14, the CCDC Real Estate and Budget-Finance & Administration Joint Committee voted 7-0 to make the same recommendation.
The advisory group’s recommendation was the final step in reviewing the design before it makes its way to the CCDC Board of Directors at a public meeting scheduled for 1 p.m. Sept. 28. During the past few months, a series of three public workshops have whittled the design from a question of what works for San Diego to three general concepts and, finally, to one clear favorite.
In July, the Cabrillo Arch plan came out the winner, but work was left to be done. An interactive water feature was in doubt, but still on the table. Plant selection, the incorporation of public art and public safety were also among the things still asked about during the summer.
The new plaza’s designers at Portland, Ore.-based Walker Macy think the process has provided enough answers for the board to approve the design.
“We’re very pleased that we’ve met the program,” said Doug Macy, principal of Walker Macy. “I think through the stakeholder meetings, we’ve had a great deal of enthusiasm. … We’ve had a lot of people come out.”
The project will demolish the old Robinsons-May building next to the Balboa Theater and replace it with an amphitheater lined with 35-foot electric luminaries, a Native American-inspired mosaic floor and possibly a digital video screen on the Bradley Building. Three kiosks, two on the north side and one on the south, will provide 1,200 square feet of space for retail, food and shade with their latticed and plant-covered canopies. The larger southern kiosk will have restrooms and a rooftop deck.
Last week’s advisory meeting revealed a few changes to the plan from how it stood in July. To ease public safety concerns, minor changes from the initial plans for the Horton Plaza Park restoration were penciled in by the Walker Macy team. The project will still restore the currently plant-filled park to its grassy 1920 state, but minus the decorative chains that historically dangled from posts along the Plaza Street side and two sections of them along the Broadway side. It will make the park more “permeable,” Macy said and reduce potential for deactivation of the space.
The iconic queen palms that dot the perimeter of the park will either remain or be replaced with fresh palms.
Although it’s viewed as secondary in the overall design, plant and tree selection for the rest of the new plaza was also laid out to the advisory committee before the approving vote. Turning again to regional history, Walker Macy has decided to move forward with a variety of plants introduced to San Diego by Kate Sessions, the botanist and landscape architect. Local historians refer to Sessions as the “Mother of Balboa Park” for her late 19th century cultivation of what was then known as City Park.
Plans call for the new plaza to include a large tipu tree on the Fourth Avenue side, jacaranda plants along Fourth Avenue and Broadway Circle, and gold medallion trees along E Street. Planters along some plaza edges and in the historic park will contain bird of paradise, cordyline, bougainvillea and trumpet vine.
Of concern to some committee members was the $1 million budget shortfall the project looks to be facing right now. If the water feature — which Walker Macy and CCDC planners still hope to include — is added, the shortfall would increase to around $2 million, CCDC Senior Planner Mark Caro said.
Options, such as soliciting private donations, are being explored to find ways to secure more funds, he added, but nothing has officially been discussed with anyone outside of CCDC.
Even at a $1 million shortfall, or about 10 percent, Macy said that as designing and budgeting goes, the project budget is in good position. Still on the table is the reduction in size of certain aspects around the plaza to reduce budget, but the need for that hasn’t come about yet, Macy said.
“That’s not a bad situation to be in at this point in the game,” Macy said.
If the plan earns approval from the board of directors this week, Caro’s team would immediately move into preparing design, development and construction drawings. Assuming approval, a target of June 2012 has been set for the team to have 80 percent of the construction documents completed, allowing for the project to move toward the bidding phase. Caro hopes to authorize the project for bid by September or October 2012 and have a building permit in place by the end of the year.
That would leave the prospective contractor with roughly 12 months to complete the job before the planned New Year’s Eve celebration aimed at officially opening the plaza the night of Dec. 31, 2013.