Downtown to Get New Park
The city is in the process of purchasing a nearly one-acre parcel on Spring Street for a new neighborhood park. Photo by Gary Leonard.

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - City officials last week announced plans to create a small park in green-starved Downtown. It would be a victory for the city Department of Recreation and Parks, which has been severely criticized for its inability to use fees from developers to create parks across Los Angeles.

Ninth District Councilwoman Jan Perry and the Department of Recreation and Parks said last Wednesday that the park will occupy nearly one acre of land in the Historic Core. The city is in the process of acquiring the parcel for $5.6 million from developer Downtown Properties, who previously entitled the land for a high-rise hotel and condominiums. Perry noted that the price is 12.5% below what the land was appraised for in September 2008.

"I think it's a major step and I hope it's the first one of many," said Perry. "I hope it's a place of peaceful refuge from the stress of daily life."

Fronting Spring Street between Fourth and Fifth streets, the property currently houses a parking lot and construction equipment for Downtown Properties' adjacent Rowan lofts and under-construction El Dorado lofts. The city expects to close escrow on the property in March, said Perry, and after that will gather community input on what features it should include. There is no timeline yet, but because of the park's small size, Perry said, it should open within months of the sale closing.

"I know we have a lot of creative people in the Historic Core, so I expect the ideas will be very unusual and unique," she said. "I expect a true urban park."

Over the next two months, the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council will hold a series of community meetings where attendees will be invited to make suggestions about park features and management, said DLANC President Russell Brown.

"Probably it will be a place that can accommodate small community events," said Brown. "We're looking at a mid-block alley paseo that would connect Fifth Street to Fourth Street with the park in the middle. Maybe a dog care area. Not a dog park, but a place to curb your dogs, maybe a dog run."

He also noted that the park could eventually complement ground-floor restaurants proposed for surrounding buildings, and the monthly Downtown Art Walk, which includes nearby galleries.

In terms of management, it remains to be seen whether the city or the Historic Downtown Business Improvement District and the community will take responsibility for the park's upkeep.

The land is being purchased with the help of Quimby fees, assessments collected from developers that go toward park projects. The city's Quimby program has been in the spotlight since late 2007, when Recreation and Parks General Manager Jon Kirk Mukri revealed that the department had accumulated more than $120 million in fees since 2002, but lacked an effective tracking system for the money and that much of it remained unused.

Subsequent City Council hearings and an audit of the Quimby program by City Controller Laura Chick increased pressure on Recreation and Parks to identify potential new park sites.

Perry, an outspoken critic of Mukri's handling of the park funds, last spring created a task force to address Downtown's lack of parks. The committee, which includes members of several city departments and the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council, among others, helped guide the search for Downtown Los Angeles park sites. Members recently looked at another plot, near the intersection of Main and Winston streets, as a potential acquisition.

Mukri has argued that his department exercised prudence in refusing to quickly spend the Quimby money.

"I'm very happy we did not just spend the Quimby money," he said last week. "We came up with a plan, we worked with the Downtown folks… they mapped out an area for us to focus on and we got it. This is the first step in what I hope will be many to improve Downtown."

The department is currently working on a citywide assessment to identify park needs and match them with available funds. That assessment, Mukri said, should be complete within two months.

A final master plan for the department, which will incorporate information from the needs assessment as well as detailed guidelines for everything from hiring practices to land acquisition, is expected to be complete by the end of the year.

Contact Anna Scott at

page 3, 1/19/2009

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