SLO Mission Plaza Master Plan concepts add new look, amenities

Improvements are planned for Mission Plaza in downtown San Luis Obispo.
Improvements are planned for Mission Plaza in downtown San Luis Obispo. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Mission Plaza in downtown San Luis Obispo could include more patio space for concertgoers, a recreational spray pool for kids, a new restroom closer to concerts, and a cafe. And a bordering street could even be repaved with bricks to minimize traffic and encourage walking and cycling. These are options under two conceptual plans now up for consideration.

After receiving feedback from dozens of members of the public, nearby business owners and a Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa priest, the city has drafted a pair of conceptual Mission Plaza Master Plan renderings, each proposing an updated configuration for Mission Plaza and its bordering streets.

“We wanted the concepts to be distinctly different, so people would have a choice between the ideas presented,” said Manny Guzman, the project manager for the Mission Plaza Master Plan.

The exact cost to renovate the plaza isn’t known because the final option hasn’t been determined, but Guzman said it will be “several million dollars” of phased upgrades. Work could begin as early as next year.

The downtown hub is a central location for tourists, walkers, churchgoers and community activists.

The plaza also hosts many popular events, including Concerts in the Plaza, the SLO Jazz Festival, Movies at the Mission, the Greek Festival, Dia de los Muertos, the Via dei Colori street painting festival and Santa’s House.

City voters opted to close Monterey Street to through traffic in 1968, a controversial decision that’s now a widely revered part of the city’s history.

One of the most radical changes, in the rendering titled Concept A, is the creation of a “woonerf” street on the Monterey Street and Broad Street dogleg between the plaza and the History Center of San Luis Obispo County.

A woonerf would resurface the street with brick or another textured material that creates a differentiation from asphalt to slow traffic. The route would be shared by cars, pedestrians and cyclists.

“People in the meetings really liked the idea of a woonerf,” Guzman said. “It’s a concept that exists in Europe and some American cities. Seattle is one. Really, cars tend not to go on the road, or people driving notice immediately that it’s a place where people walk and use their bikes, so they make sure to go slow.”

Other ideas in Concept A, the proposal preferred by most people the planners have talked to, include a cafe at the corner of Monterey and Broad; an expanded patio near the stage area by the bear fountain and concert-staging area; and increased accessibility for handicapped people, including a crossing at San Luis Obispo Creek near Luna Red restaurant and a new entry at Chorro Street.

Alternative options in Concept B, which city planners say is the less-preferred option, include the tear-down of the plaza’s only restroom with a replacement facility built closer to the concert area; a meandering, handicap-accessible pathway down to San Luis Obispo Creek; a splash pad or spray pool for kids in a sunken creekside terrace; and the conversion of the Monterey and Broad dogleg to one-way traffic heading south along the plaza toward downtown.

The public workshops were held in October and June, and city consultant RRM Design Group used the input to create its renderings. RRM and city staff members will present the two concepts at a joint City Council and Planning Commission study session scheduled for Oct. 4.

The proposal will then be considered by the Parks and Recreation Commission, the Architectural Review Commission, the Planning Commission and the City Council before a final Master Plan approval.

Some of the shared features of both plans include a visitor information booth, new drinking fountains, drought-tolerant landscaping, tree lighting and more benches.

“Some people in the public said they don’t feel safe at night sometimes because of the homeless population around the plaza area,” Guzman said. “More lighting could help people feel safe.”

The majority of people who gave input favored the idea of creating accessibility to the creek for handicapped people, though some worried it could damage sensitive habitat.

“Most people seemed to favor a meandering, organic design (as in Option B) as opposed to large monolithic ramp structures,” Guzman wrote in a summary report of the public workshops.

Both proposals also recommended a potential scramble crossing at Monterey and Chorro streets that would allow a wider space for pedestrians to access the plaza, giving them right-of-way from any direction of the intersection.

Renderings of the proposals

Here’s a look at renderings for the two Mission Plaza proposals. Scroll to see both options.