City plaza: Not what it used to be

… and maybe that’s OK

IN THE WORKS <br>The focal point of the City Plaza is the spiraling ground-level fountain. The bandshell is awaiting its final touch: a mechanical, moveable dome.

The focal point of the City Plaza is the spiraling ground-level fountain. The bandshell is awaiting its final touch: a mechanical, moveable dome.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

What others think:
The Streetalk topic of the week is how much faith people have in the future of the Downtown Plaza Park. See page 9.of the printed paper

You know that block of concrete between Fourth and Fifth, Broadway and Main? Is that supposed to be Chico’s Downtown Plaza Park?

Yes. Yes, it is.

For those who remember fondly the giant old elms, wooden stage and grass-beneath-your-feet simplicity of the former plaza … well, don’t expect anything like that in the future.

But don’t take that to mean that the new city plaza isn’t going to be nice. If it looks anything like the animated 3-D rendering of the final product on the city’s Web site, the addition of green to the gray will make a world of difference.

“One of the things that’s happening right now is that, when you’re standing and seeing the exterior of those planters, you’re also seeing the inside,” said Dennis Beardsley, general services director for the city. “It looks like a tremendous amount of concrete.”

Chico City Councilwoman Ann Schwab agrees.

“It’s like seeing a house in the two-by-four stage,” she said. “You have no idea what it’s going to look like in the end. I hope people will withhold judgment until they’ve seen the end product.”

The planters are designed to elevate the parts of the ground that aren’t pathways. Most of them will simply be filled with grass—it’s a way to keep bicyclists from riding over the lawn and ruining it. They will have ramps or steps, inviting people to picnic or sit on the grass during concerts and special events.

An architect’s conception of the park’s future configuration.

Courtesy Of Land Image

“This is like an opportunity for a home remodel,” Schwab said. “It’s an opportunity to bring our park into the 21st century. Like if you had a house that was built at the turn of the century, and now you have the opportunity to build a whole new one—well, we entertain in a new style now. You’d want a big-screen TV, just like a bandstand for the stage. We use the park differently than we did 100 years ago.”

One thing that might excite lovers of the old plaza: the return of the elm. Not the towering, old, dying ones that John Bidwell planted oh so long ago, but new, disease-resistant elms that will be planted along the diagonal pathways—about two dozen 6- or 7-footers.

“We’re really pleased that we’ll be able to put elms back into the city plaza,” Beardsley said. The perimeter will be planted with dogwoods. He said he plans for a platform for public art and that the city is looking for an artist interested in using one or more of the old elm trunks as a medium.

“A lot of people don’t know some of the special features [going into the park],” Schwab said. She described one of those features as a ground-level fountain—the focal point of the new plaza. Glass tile, designed like waterways, will wind through the diagonal walkways and meet in the middle, she said. The fountain will be a big globe with a perspective of North America, with Chico highlighted.

The center fountain area will be open, for safety reasons. In the past, that area got pretty dark at night, attracting some bad elements and making others feel unsafe, Beardsley said. The fountain will also be adjustable, depending on the event. So the water could shoot 12 feet in the air, or it could be little bubblers, or it could be shut off completely.

The last piece to the puzzle is the mechanics and moveable-dome part of the bandshell, the biggest structure on the property. Opposite the stage is a large restroom facility with five stalls each for men and women. During the day only two stalls on either side will be open, with the rest being opened only for special events, Beardsley said. That means saying goodbye to the bright blue porta-potties that used to have to be hauled in for events and every once in a while tipped over.

“There’s a difference between a park and a plaza,” Beardsley said. “We want a central location for the community to gather for events.”

The cost was originally calculated at about $3.2 million but will probably run about $3.5 million when all is done. The finish date has also been moved, from April/May to September/October.

Many people ask why the project is taking so long, said Brian Vickery, site superintendent and contractor with BCM Construction. “But there’s no way to do it any faster.” A lot of the work thus far has been laying out concrete, building the complicated bandshell. Crews now are out there working on walkways, electricity (which Beardsley promises will be plentiful), plumbing, roofing, you name it. By the end of the week, Vickery said, they would be putting in chess tables.

“If you go out there right now, you’ll see the contractors, they have people walking over each other trying to get things done,” Beardsley said.

And despite all of the negative remarks made about the concrete monstrosity, the concrete jungle … well, Schwab says, “I think it’s just going to be beautiful.”