January 22, 2018 - From the January, 2018 issue

Ana Lasso on the Promise of L.A.’s Exposition Park Master Plan

Exposition Park, where many of Los Angeles’ coming attractions are being constructed, is undergoing a master plan update for the first time in 25 years. As Expo Park welcomes the George Lucas Museum of Narrative Art and the Banc of California soccer stadium, the Park will face new challenges in parking and accessibility. To provide an update on the master plan process, TPR sat down with General Manager Ana Lasso. Like Expo Park Committee Chair Billie Greer stated in the fall, Lasso described the potential for Expo Park to compete and potentially eclipse the Central Park and Millennium Park, once its new attractions open.


Ana Lasso

“My hope for Exposition Park is that, when people come here to go to the Science Center, the Natural History Museum, the new Banc of California stadium, or the Coliseum, from the moment they set foot here, the experience between spaces will be just as fulfilling as the sport activity or museum they’re coming here for.” - Ana Lasso

Mayor Eric Garcetti has said that Exposition Park could become L.A.’s version of Central Park, with the Lucas Museum as the “jewel in the crown.” Update our readers on the planning currently underway for new additions and restorations to the park. 

Ana Lasso: I agree that Exposition Park is poised to be like Central Park. But to get there, we need a commitment from everyone within the park and the community to embrace a campus concept for the park, and to invest—both monetarily and programmatically—in making the common realms of the park more robust.

At Central Park, wherever you’re going—whether it’s the Guggenheim, the Met, the lake, or the gardens—you also have the opportunity to spend time in open space. The experience on the way to your specific destination is just as important as the experience of wherever you’re headed.

My hope for Exposition Park is that, when people come here to go to the Science Center, the Natural History Museum, the new Banc of California stadium, or the Coliseum, from the moment they set foot here, the experience between spaces will be just as fulfilling as the sport activity or museum they’re coming here for. We’re on our way there. 

Lay out the Master Plan’s scope: What are the Board of Directors’ goals for the park’s first master plan in a quarter century?

In 1993, a Master Plan was completed that set forth the course of Exposition Park from that point forward. Most of the projects in that plan have now been completed. For the last 25 years, we haven’t had a new plan to take us beyond that.

Exposition Park as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts. When you come to the attractions and institutions, you are also coming to the park, which provides a reprieve from the urban concrete jungle. But until now, the park has operated in silos. The new Master Plan is going to be our toolkit to synthesize the 1993 plan and the new projects coming forth—like the Banc of California, the Coliseum renovation, and the Lucas Museum—into a cohesive destination.

Part of that effort is creating common identifiers, like linked passages, identifiable locations, or synonymous lighting. Essentially, it’s placemaking—making this place a campus. We can achieve this through branding, cross-promotional marketing materials, and design standards, as well as by collectively producing a very strong calendar of events.

You can imagine that each institution in the park has lots of events, both inside their spaces and outside in the common area. There are a lot of competing interests. My role is to be a unifier for the park, and program the common areas. As a group of institutions, we all have to reach a consensus about how we are going to program the indoor and outdoor spaces, and the park’s role in the local, regional, statewide, and international communities. The new Master Plan is going to give us not only land-use guidelines, but also some of these programmatic goalposts, as well as insight into how to structure projects so that they connect the institutions and promote campus.

Who are the consultants involved with the Master Plan?

We’re very excited to have the architectural firm Torti Gallas + Partners leading the Master Plan, and the rich team of consultants they bring: Consensus for community outreach, KPFF for engineering, Sapphos Environmental for environmental review, Biederman Redevelopment Ventures (BRV), and AHBE Landscape Architects. All of these consultants are phenomenal.

One reason we chose this team is that BRV is focused on park redevelopment—specifically placemaking. They are the firm that took Bryant Park in New York from a down-and-out park to one of the most successful and vibrant parks in that city. BRV is going to help us look at programming in terms of defining what our goals are and what each entity needs in order to be successful and serve their mission. The team will also help us hone in on that perfect balance.

The Office of Exposition Park Management is a state department, but we don’t get general funds from the state; we are self-funded. So, we have to figure out how to create revenue to maintain, sustain, and support both the park itself and the entities in it.

All the institutional directors and their deputies served on the selection panel, and Torti Gallas + Partners and their sub-consultants blew everyone away. We could see that the firms all knew how to dance and sing together very well. We’re asking for a large scope in this Master Plan, and we’re sure that these consultants can do it.

The Master Plan must also contend with the pressures of gentrification, given the growth happening along the Figueroa Corridor at L.A. Live, the Convention Center, and the new USC Village. Share how the developments adjacent to the park are being incorporated into the Master Plan.

 There’s a lot going on around us, but our goal is to continue providing the community with access to a free park, and focus on making it a true park as well as a campus of institutions. As our area sees a lot of economic development—and really, gentrification, as this community is going through major changes—we have to think about how Exposition Park can continue to serve Los Angeles as a great equalizer of sorts.

I think of Exposition Park as an essential organ: a lifeline to open space; a sanctuary of nature, with the Nature Gardens and the Rose Gardens; a heartbeat of education, with the Alexander Science Center School and the preschool at EXPO Center; and a telescope of exploration, with the Science Center, the Natural History Museum, and the California African American Museum. We’ll also soon have a view of excellence at the Coliseum—with both the USC Trojans and the Olympic athletes potentially playing there—and a cathedral of soccer at the LA Football Club’s Banc of California stadium. With the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, we’ll also have yet another cultural institution that will provide us with such rich cultural and educational opportunities.

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Even though you have to pay for some of these venues, the in-between spaces, as well as the Science Center, the African-American Museum, and portions of the EXPO Center, are free to the public. My hope is that, if people had to think of one word to describe Exposition Park, it would be “access.”

Speaking of access: Parking has been a constant challenge at the park, especially on football weekends. What are your constituent institutions needs and expectations from the Master Plan?

That’s part of the challenge for Torti Gallas + Partners and their team. LA culture is still very much an automobile culture. In all of the leases we have in place—with USC Coliseum, the LA Football Club, NHM, and even some of the obligations we’ve solidified with CAAM, and the Science Center—we are bound to provide a certain inventory of parking that cannot be reduced.

Having said that, I do think the Master Plan will result in some creative thinking about parking. Parking for the Lucas Museum, for example, will be underground, which will open up 13 acres of great open space on the west side of the park. There may also be potential for structured parking to free up more open space. All of that will come through in the solution sets that the team provides to us.

We’ll see how this evolves depending on everyone’s interests and priorities in terms of sustaining our venues. It’s hard to tell what the future holds for us, let alone for the evolution of LA’s car culture, but I do think that ride-sharing and driverless cars will impact how we look at land use here.

Are any of the park’s institutions losing attendance due to access challenges?

We don’t know yet. The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art begins construction in January, and we expect to see the growing pains that are typical to any construction site. But we’re going to try to work together to make sure that the existing museums don’t see a decline in visits as a result.

Some of that will fall under the operations of my office, like making sure that traffic is clearly planned and mitigated. A lot of it also falls on the museums’ shoulders, and they are bringing some fantastic exhibits during that time: The Science Center is bringing the King Tut world premiere, the Natural History Museum has Tattoo, and CAAM also has some really phenomenal programming. That combination of exciting programming and good traffic planning will help mitigate any potential decline in visits.

Ana, what has been the best part of your job to date?

Exposition Park is a phenomenal campus that has impacted me personally—inspiring me to become an urban planner. Growing up in Los Angeles, this park was my equalizer. It was the place where I saw multiculturalism, art, and sport all come together.

When I started working here, I saw that a lot of the institutions still worked independently of each other. It’s been fantastic over the last four years to see all of the directors start to work in concert with my office, our Board of Directors, Chairwoman Fabian Wesson, Vice Chair Billie Greer, and our community leader Jackie DuPont Walker.

Everyone believes in this Master Plan; we decided to embark on it even before the Banc of California and the Lucas Museum were at the table. We all want to make Exposition Park better for the future. We all have access on our minds. And we all embrace this community, which we define in many ways.

It has been a challenge to get all the funding aligned, but it’s been a pleasure to work with each of the directors to get to this point. I’m just excited to see what will become of Exposition Park in the future.

Finally, when do you anticipate the Master Plan being released?

It’s a three-year process, and we’re in year one. This first year focuses on a needs assessment and a land-use plan. Year two is the conceptual plan. That’s where you’ll see solutions start to take shape out of the information, data, interviews, and community meetings we did in the first year. In the third year, we’re going to work on the environmental impact report or mitigated negative declaration, depending on what types of projects are defined. But year two is when the public will start to see presentations on what might be coming to the park.

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© 2018 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.