Plaza Park gets million-dollar makeover

NO TRESPASSING<br>The Downtown Plaza Park is a no-man’s land during renovation.

The Downtown Plaza Park is a no-man’s land during renovation.

Photo By Tom Angel

Downtown Plaza Park has for years been a community gathering place where the homeless lazed in the grass or slept on benches beneath 130-year-old elms, artisans sold their wares during the town’s many celebrations and local bands showcased their music on warm Friday evenings in front of dust-stirring hippies, picnicking families and kids in sleeveless shirts offering heavy-metal power salutes.

Today a cyclone fence posted with No Trespassing signs that slap in the breeze encircles this patch of ground centered in the heart of downtown Chico. Bums on benches have been replaced by bulldozers, backhoes and orange safety cones.

And most of the trees are gone, as well.

Plaza Park is in the midst of a $2.5-million makeover, due for completion by the middle of next March.

The gazebo that served as a stage for hundreds of Friday night Concerts in the Park during the last two decades has been reduced to a wooden platform.

The renovation, long in the making, was hurried along when a branch from one of the stately elms that defined the park came crashing down three years ago, damaging a second elm and injuring a park visitor. Two towering palm trees, an American linden and all of the remaining bur oaks are slated for removal.

A blue atlas cedar, planted in the early 1980s, was moved 30 feet by a crew two weeks ago at a cost of $20,000. It is now standing in line to be one day draped with colored lights during December as the town’s community Christmas tree. The tall California coastal redwood that has served as a holiday tree for at least the past 20 years will eventually come down, said Chris Boza, the city’s urban forester.

The reworking of the park is being done by BCM Construction Company, Inc., a local firm that has operated in Chico since 1997 and includes on its ràsumà projects ranging from an 80,000-square-foot tilt-up structure built for the Sutter Homes Winery in Napa Valley to the erection of numerous cellular phone towers in Northern California and Nevada.

The project supervisor, Brian Vickery, is working out of a temporary office in the old Chico Municipal Building across Main Street from the park. Just this week the Chico City Council authorized City Manager Tom Lando to enter into a lease agreement with BCM and rent the office for a reasonable $492.80 a month, until the company installs a temporary office trailer on the site.

The remade park, Boza said, will include a new stage, public restrooms and an “interactive fountain” programmed with timed jets for synchronized aquatic action. The park will also feature a new band stand, complete with a cover topped with a copper dome, “like a traditional band shell,” said Park Director Dennis Beardsley.

The project is set for completion, if all goes according to plan, by March 16, 2006.

Beardsley, however, said he’s more comfortable saying that the park will be ready sometime in April, but definitely by the first week in May for the annual Artisan’s Faire.

In the meantime, while it remains a work in progress, the park will remain closed to public access.