Civic Park in Downtown shows signs of life *

Christopher Hawthorne seems to like what he sees happening at the new park envisioned for the ugly mall that runs from the Music Center east most of the way to City Hall. Official groundbreaking is Thursday. The Times' architecture critic says:

Over the last several months, a late-in-the-game effort by the park's designers, Rios Clementi Hale Studios, to give it a crisper look and strengthen its overall conceptual framework has paid real dividends. The design still shows the strain of trying to answer to dozens of interested public officials and constituent groups and their differing visions of what the park might be. Yet it has also roused itself enough to assert, for the first time, a coherent aesthetic identity.

According to Mark Rios, who leads the design team for the project, there is another reason for measured optimism about the park's future: The Music Center and its president, Stephen Rountree, have been involved in preliminary talks to operate it. Until now, the plan was for the park to be run by a new nonprofit group set up by L.A. County, which owns the site, and other officials.

Under the Music Center's control, the park could effectively become an extended front yard for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Los Angeles Opera, Center Theatre Group and other organizations. In the best-case scenario, the Music Center's involvement could help spur fundraising for sophisticated performance facilities. Imagine a new band shell, just west of Hill Street, designed by a leading contemporary architect as a spot for Gustavo Dudamel to lead the L.A. Phil in more intimate outdoor concerts than are possible at the Hollywood Bowl.

Among other features, Hawthorne says, a dog run has been added. Chairs and benches will also be movable, ala the High Line park in Manhattan, not anchored in place forbiddingly as in so many public spaces in L.A.

* 4:25 update: Eli Broad has offered to pay $7.7 million to lease the land next to Disney Hall for his new art museum, the Downtown News reports. Broad's museum would be part of the Grand Avenue Project that inspired the Civic Park.

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