Spring Street Park to Open in June

Patti Berman helms a nonprofit group that hopes to operate the Spring Street Park. 

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES -Historic Core residents have a reason to cheer: The Spring Street Park is scheduled to open in June, two months ahead of schedule.

Actually, there’s a second bit of good news: Area stakeholders have come up with a plan to operate and maintain the park, rebounding from a fumbled, divisive effort in 2011.

Work on the park between the El Dorado and Rowan lofts has been proceeding steadily for months. Sod has been laid and work has begun on the playground. A sign that reads “Spring Street Park” now hangs on the gate of the L-shaped site.

The nearly one-acre gated facility on Spring between Fourth and Fifth streets features a fountain, a lawn, trees, a playground and curved benches. Planning began in 2009 after Downtown Properties, which developed the condominium buildings on either side, sold what was then a parking lot to the city.

Construction on the park began in August 2012, following a prep period in which electrical and other infrastructure were placed.

For months, the $8 million project had been scheduled to open this August. That got speeded up by the office of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who wants to bring the facility online before he is termed out July 1, said Patti Berman, who helms the nonprofit group that will run the park.

 “The mayor would like to be involved in the grand opening, since he has been involved since the beginning,” Berman said. “He told everyone to hurry up and get it done.”

City Shortfall

While the park’s opening will spark an immediate celebration, the securing of neighborhood overseers will likely have a long-lasting impact.

This marks the second attempt at an operating committee. In 2011, a nonprofit called Friends of the Old Bank District Gardens was established by developers Tom Gilmore of the Old Bank District, Bill Stevenson of Downtown Properties and a few residents of the El Dorado and Rowan lofts. The group was preparing to sign a contract with the city to operate the park when plans fell apart due to disagreement over the name of the attraction: Some wanted to call it Spring Street Gardens, while others were pushing for Old Bank District Gardens. There were also disputes about the future programing of the park.

Now Berman, who is president of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council, has taken the reins of Friends of the Old Bank District Gardens. She has recruited Downtown developers Eric Shomof and Allen Gross as part of a planned five-member steering committee.

Berman said that because of the significance of the park and its potential for high use, the group wants to make sure it is well cared for.

“The city really doesn’t have much money for maintenance,” she said.

DLANC is not involved in the nonprofit, Berman said. Gilmore, Stevenson and the residents of the condo buildings are also no longer part of the group, she said.

As in the previous attempt, Berman hopes to sign a contract with the city that would allow the group to operate the park and be responsible for all costs, including repairs and maintenance. Under the proposal, the park would remain a public facility and the city Department of Recreation and Parks would set guidelines on how the park is operated.

Mike Shull, a superintendent with the Department of Recreation and Parks, said a three-year agreement with the nonprofit group is expected to be signed within 30 days after it is approved by the Recreation and Parks Commission. It would cost approximately $100,000 a year for the group to operate the park. If all goes well, the initial agreement could be extended, he said.

Berman said the group has a commitment from Downtown-based American Apparel to provide $100,000 per year for the next five years to operate the park, although no contract has been signed with the company. Her group also plans to pursue donations and grants.

If the group fails to meet its responsibilities, the operation and maintenance of the park would fall back on the city, Shull said. However, with a cash-strapped government, the partnership would benefit everyone, he said.

 “In these days and times, any time we can partner with funding or operations and maintenance, our eyes and ears are wide open,” Shull said.

Josh Gray-Emmer, a homeowner at the El Dorado who helped form the original nonprofit group, said he is happy to see others taking over.

“They have some incredible leaders involved in this like Patti,” he said.

Shomof, the son of developer Izek Shomof, said he was approached by Berman to be part of the steering committee. He said they are still developing a plan to determine specific responsibilities, but he wants to help ensure the future of the park.

“We want to make sure it’s a nice, public park enjoyed by a lot of kids in Downtown and everyone else,” he said.

Contact Richard Guzmán at richard@downtownnews.com.


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