Is Mission Plaza just fine as is or should San Luis Obispo focus on making it less “creepy” and better suited for events?
That was the question City Council members wrestled with Tuesday as they evaluated the latest version of the Mission Plaza Concept Plan, an overhaul that would cost an estimated $7 million to $8 million.
The vision is to create a revamped plaza with more patio space for concertgoers, a splash pad (a mini-park that sprays water from ground nozzles), a new restroom and cafe, and a shared street for bikes, motorists and pedestrians at the dogleg at Broad and Monterey streets, among other improvements.
Any construction would be at least a couple of years away because the project is not part of the city’s current budget cycle and reports on hydrology, biology and soils, and environmental impacts, are still needed.
“This is an inspirational and exciting plan that we’re looking at, providing some much-needed love to one of the most valuable city assets,” said Vice Mayor Dan Rivoire.
But while Councilwoman Andy Pease supported some elements such as a new restroom and public safety improvements, she urged a less ambitious project, citing spending priorities and anticipated budget constraints.
“I would be concerned at a price tag of $7 or $8 million, or in my brain it’s going to $10 million,” Pease said. “Does that amount of money create new magic?”
Pease suggested prioritizing the city’s arts and cultural district, including museum expansions, instead of proposed plaza upgrades such as a raised amphitheater.
Community concerns about Mission Plaza have touched on shabby restroom conditions as well as drug and homeless activity.
“One of the primary things we’ve heard is the plaza is not as safe as it has felt in the past,” said Debbie Rudd of RRM Design Group, a project consultant. “Especially business owners who are there on a regular basis, they don’t even feel safe walking in the plaza in certain times of the day.”
More lighting and outdoor cafe seating encourages a mix of people near where transients tend to hang out, with a nearby child-friendly area, including a sculpture garden of kid-friendly art installations.
The new dogleg would calm traffic with such measures as planters, posts or cobblestone streets to allow bicyclists and pedestrians to safely use the same roadway space.
The plan is separate from the Downtown Concept Plan, adopted Tuesday, which takes a broader look at downtown infrastructure.
Councilwoman Carlyn Christianson urged investing in and going after grant money for Mission Plaza, calling it a key driver of the city’s tourism and economic development, even if construction phases are “five or 10 or 20 years” away.
Raising my kids here I’d send them on their way and then run after them saying, ‘Have a good time, but don’t go to Mission Plaza.’ I’m excited to see future generations hopefully not have those safety concerns and really be able to utilize it.
Heidi Harmon, mayor
“It’s absolutely essential that we invest in and approve a plan like this,” Christianson said. “It’s going to be a linchpin in leveraging our downtown as the center or our city, of our county, and possibly the center of our state.”
The city will need to spend about $200,000 on technical reports, money that may not be allocated until the city’s next two-year funding cycle in 2019-2021.
Another key feature would be to raise levels of the lowered spaces around the concert patio area to the same grade and create more standing room for popular and packed events such as the Friday night Concerts in the Plaza series.
A widened pedestrian gateway and crosswalk would make the Chorro Street side of the plaza more inviting and accessible.
“Raising my kids here I’d send them on their way and then run after them saying, “Have a good time, but don’t go to Mission Plaza,” said Mayor Heidi Harmon. “I’m excited to see future generations hopefully not have those safety concerns and really be able to utilize it.”