February 11, 2019 - From the February, 2019 issue

Torti Gallas + Partners on the Expo Park’s Inherent Collaboration and Community Engagement Challenges

Downtown Los Angeles’s Exposition Park is set to undergo a major transformation ahead of the 2028 Olympic Games. Every aspect of the campus is blooming: the Banc of California Stadium is already open, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art is under construction, the Coliseum is getting a high-tech renovation, the California Science Center is expanding, and the Natural History Museum will be remodeled. Now, the mission is to coalesce each of these attractions into a seamless, visitor experience. In this interview, The Planning Report spoke with Neal Payton, FAIA, Principal at Torti Gallas + Partners, who is leading the effort to develop a new Master Plan for the legacy Park.


Neal Payton

“The idea of the Expo Park’s Master Plan is to bring the California Science Center, the California African-American Museum, the Coliseum, the Banc of California Stadium, the Rose Garden, and the Expo Center into a collaborative relationship with the portions of the park that are under state control, such as the South Lawn, Christmas Tree Lane, and the large field of parking lots on the south side.” - Neal Payton

Last year, The Planning Report spoke with Exposition Park GM Ana Lasso about the ongoing development of a new Master Plan. As the planning lead on this ambitious Master Plan, update our readers on its status.

Neal Payton: Exposition Park is about 147 acres of land, owned mostly by the state and by the city of Los Angeles, on which there are a number of tenants. Most of the places people visit—the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, the California Science Center, the California African-American Museum, the Coliseum, the Banc of California Stadium, and soon, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art —are separate institutions that are each leasing land from the state, while the Expo Center and the Rose Garden are on land owned by the city. As a result, they each have their own plans for their properties.

The idea of the Master Plan is to bring all these entities into a collaborative relationship with the portions of the park that are under state control, such as the South Lawn, Christmas Tree Lane, and the large field of parking lots on the south side. We want to tie all these institutions together to create a seamless pedestrian experience. We’re also interested in park equity and improving the south side of the park to equal the wonderful conditions on the north side. The goal is that when somebody goes to the park to see a game or visit a museum, they might decide to come earlier or stay longer to do something else as well.

How is the planning process unfolding?

The first six months of our effort was all about data collection. When we began, there wasn’t a unified set of drawings of the park. We had to create an overall plan from scratch, more or less. We also interviewed stakeholders—community members, elected officials, clergy, each institution, and more—about their concerns and hopes for possible land use futures.

Since then, we’ve been working on an analysis of the current state of play: the experiences of the park from the inside and the outside. What are the gateways and entrances like? Can you find your way around? Does it seem inviting? Are some places more inviting than others? Is there adequate lighting? Which green spaces are used and which are not? How do people access the park—by transit, by auto, or on foot? Can we improve that access? Is there adequate parking?

We especially looked at opportunities to improve the pedestrian experience. One example is Bill Robertson Lane, a city street that runs between the Coliseum and the Lucas Museum. The street is necessary for park functions, but it doesn’t have to be so large and unfriendly to pedestrians. We want to make it more of a park street and less of a city street.

There’s another entry street off Figueroa, State Drive, which becomes a walkway as it passes in front of the California Science Center. We want to turn that path into a really exciting museum walk—starting at the California African-American Museum, passing by the California Science Center and then the Natural History Museum, and ending at the Lucas Museum—to create an experience of the various institutions and an excitement around being able to visit them.

We’re also discussing the potential of redesigning our southern parking lots, ideally undergrounding it or alternatively building a structure aboveground. The advantage of either option is that we’d free up space for actual park uses.

Share the planning challenges of finding commonality in the demands of the many disparate leaseholders on this property, including the California Science Center, California African-American Museum, Coliseum, Banc of California Stadium, Rose Garden, and Expo Center.

The two biggest challenges to institutional cooperation and cohabitation that we have found are security and parking.

Many of the park’s institutions are fenced off from one another. After the Rams came to Los Angeles, the Coliseum added a second fence around the perimeter of its first fence. The Natural History Museum has a fence to protect an outdoor exhibit that is incredibly expensive and highly curated. The Lucas Museum will also have a fence.

The fences are there for good reason, of course. Any gathering space that can hold upwards of 100,000 people, like the Coliseum, has to think long and hard about security and access control. And the museums need to maintain and protect their assets when the facilities are closed. But from a park perspective, all these fences are isolating and somewhat foreboding. They’re not something you expect to see in the middle of a public park.

We want the park’s separate institutions to feel more seamlessly connected, while recognizing their individual needs. The Coliseum is a historic building; two Olympics and many significant sporting events have taken place there. There is an opportunity to make that history part of the park experience—if pedestrians are able to walk around the building. We’re looking at the new Banc of California stadium, which was built without any fencing, as a model.

Another seminal issue is parking and traffic management. When there’s a game at the Coliseum or the Banc of California stadium, or a major concert at the park, it swamps the parking supply and pretty much guarantees that there will be no parking for any of the other institutions.

It might seem great for the museums to have 100,000 people coming to the park for a game who might then become aware of the existence of the museum. But if people can’t actually get to the museum, it isn’t as great an opportunity as you might imagine.

We’re negotiating the traffic management and parking demands of several large institutions. Right now, before we complete the overall Master Plan, we’re working on a short-term plan for next year just to obviate some of the problems that have arisen in the year since the new stadium opened.

In October, Los Angeles experienced what was termed a “sports equinox,” with five home games including a World Series match all taking place on the same day. Given all the venues at Expo Park, how does that 100-year-storm scenario factor into your planning for parking and traffic?

I’ve been very frank that Expo Park cannot be expected, nor should it be expected, to provide parking for everything that goes on at the park—especially if it goes on simultaneously. If we provided enough parking to accommodate a day like that, it would be a disaster for the other 364 days of the year when that doesn’t occur. Instead, we need to think creatively about getting people to the park in other ways.

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The presence of the Expo Line has been a big help in this regard. The Downtown Regional Connector will also help, even though it doesn’t add a station at the park, because it will enhance ridership and create a more seamless connection for visitors coming from the east and the San Gabriel Valley. When Vermont Avenue transit comes online, whether it’s BRT or light rail, it will be another important connection to the park. The increasing use of car-share, bike-share, electric bike-share, and e-scooters are also important components of improved connectivity to the park. I say yes to all of the above.

All of these options have to be leveraged—which means they have to be promoted. People have to know that using those services is actually easier and cheaper than taking their own cars. We’ve thought about, for example, linking LAFC’s app to a park-wide app that would give guidance on the best way to get there and the best place to park. We’ve also thought about offering incentives, like discounts at some institutions if you come by Metro rail. All of this needs to go into the menu of options for getting to and from Expo Park, even on days when there is a perfect storm of events. 

Let’s turn to possible enhancements in the Master Plan for the south side of Exposition Park, which includes significant parking and green space.

Ideally, we would like to move that parking underground, or alternatively to a garage aboveground. We’ve observed that people in the community stroll with their kids and dogs in the evenings along a path that goes through our parking lots. Promenading in the park is a fabulous tradition. But usually, people do it on a great sidewalk lined with trees and lampposts. How unfortunate that in this case, they are limited to a parking lot! It’s a less than ideal experience, and we’d like to make it a great one.

What goes on in that space is a question we’re working on right now. One option is to add neighborhood amenities—anything from a bigger amphitheater to community gardens to open space to throw a frisbee or just relax. We’ve also looked at temporary uses and programming like winter marketplaces, farmer’s markets, and small concerts. We can imagine a whole series of activities to animate that space.

Torti Gallas is known as a leader in planning successful mixed-use neighborhoods. Talk about the surrounding neighborhoods that Expo Park will have to interface with in order to be successful. 

Most great urban parks have great urban edges. The edge is a critical component of the park. Not only does it provide natural surveillance—eyes on the space—but it creates a spatial enclosure that allows you to experience the place as an outdoor room.

If you were to tour the edges of Expo Park today, you’d find them to be unequal. The issue of park equity is apparent in the difference between the north and the south side of Expo Park today. But the edges, and the neighborhoods beyond, are evolving.

There is new housing being built in the area, both USC student housing and market-rate and much-needed affordable housing. As the neighborhood gentrifies, it’s important to ensure that those who might be displaced can still remain in the neighborhood because new affordable housing is being provided to absorb the dislocation. We’ve heard over and over again from many community members, as well as institutions, that they are concerned about displacement.

At the same time, we welcome the increased density coming in as the neighborhood transforms, because it provides more potential users of the park. We’d love it if people who live in the neighborhood would regularly come to the park just because it’s a nice place to go. 

Exposition Park Board Chair Billie Greer once stated that Expo Park could eventually eclipse Central Park and Millennium Park as a great urban park. What models do you look to as you develop the Master Plan?

We aspire to make this a great urban park, and we’re looking to meet some high bars.

In my mind, Expo Park has a different scale and character than Central Park. But I’m a big fan of a new park in Dallas called Klyde Warren Park—a freeway cap park that effectively connects two sides of the city. While tiny, in comparison to Expo Park, it has within it concert facilities, restaurants, great lounging areas, areas for children, and areas for passive recreation.  It shows how individual spaces can be created and linked together to form a whole. It is stunning and I think it’s a standard that we can hit.

I also want to note that the reason we can even hope to put Expo Park in this league is the last Master Plan from the 1990s. When that plan was created, Expo Park was nothing like it is today; the land where the Lucas Museum is being built wasn’t even part of it. Frankly, it was something of a mess. Tremendous strides have been made to bring Expo Park to the point where it is today, and we are continuing to improve it.

With Expo Park tenants likely to grow their attendance and the LA Olympics on the horizon, what are the next steps in the Master Plan approval process?

The preliminary plan will come out in about nine months, and then we’ll go through the EIR process. We’ve been having public workshops where people are asked to comment, draw, and provide additional input. People can also see the latest developments and offer their opinions on our website.

We have gotten a lot of support from Councilmember Curren Price, as well as state assemblymembers and senators. I think there’s tremendous political will to make this happen; the feeling is that the time is right. The 2028 Olympics came into play in a great way: They are an impetus for us to push as fast as we can to get things done in advance.

The Games themselves are only two weeks and will mostly entail temporary developments, but the real promise is having a billion or more people watching on television from all over the world. Those people are going to see blimp shots of all the different venues, and we want to make sure that the shots of the Expo Park venues are amazing. We want people to say, “Wow! I want to go see that when I’m in Los Angeles.”

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© 2019 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.