May 2, 2024 - From the 02, May, 2024 issue

Transforming Exposition Park: A Vision for the Future

In a detailed interview with Andrea Ambriz, General Manager of Exposition Park's Master Plan, significant insights into the park's development over the past five years were unveiled. The Master Plan, focused on integrating diverse entities within the park, has made notable progress with multiple construction projects in motion, including expansions to renowned institutions like the Natural History Museum and the upcoming Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. Furthermore, infrastructural enhancements, including the creation of green spaces and a multi-level parking facility, are poised to elevate Exposition Park into a premier destination. With the impending 2028 Olympics, the park is preparing to accommodate a surge in visitors while simultaneously enriching the pedestrian experience and fostering community involvement. This interview underscores the collaborative endeavors among stakeholders and underscores the park's potential to stand alongside iconic urban parks like Central Park and Millennium Park, marking a pivotal juncture in its evolution.

"Exposition Park is poised to become the new Central Park of the West, offering endless opportunities for cultural enrichment, community engagement, and environmental sustainability."

In 2019, The Planning Report interviewed principal’s of the architecture firm, Torti Gallas + Partners to learn and share the commissioned goals of Expo Park’s Master Plan .
During the interview, Neal Payton stated: “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.”

Could you update our readers on the Master Plan’s goals and how it has evolved over the last five years? 

Andrea Ambriz:
I'd love to. Let me begin by saying that the vision of the Master Plan is to make Exposition Park the sum of all of its parts and integrate the multiple entities that we have here on campus. Historically, our Park partners have served the public independently within Exposition Park, and the Master Plan will change that by integrating people's and visitor’s experiences.

Currently, we have three active construction sites underway. First, the Natural History Museum is building the new Commons as an expanded wing, with an amphitheater and a cafe. The new Lucas Museum of Narrative Art is slated to open in 2025. That will have thousands of square feet in collective viewing space, with a cafe and walking pathway area. Lastly, the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center is California Science Center's new space to house the Endeavour space shuttle. All three of these projects are already bringing in new visitors, and we anticipate that, when open to the public, they will draw millions more to Exposition Park annually. 

The Master Plan intended to develop the park for the next generation– we're already in that moment. 

The update on the Master Plan, which I'm excited to share is: that we are already advancing some of those proposed projects. We have already identified $14 million from the Governor's proposal of last year, which was approved in the state legislature’s budget. We are accelerating the development and planning for our largest project at the southern end of Exposition Park, which would immediately serve the local community. That area concerns the parking lots immediately adjacent to Martin Luther King Boulevard and Figueroa Street, at the very southeast of the park. The plan is to use those resources to build out the criteria for what the functionality of this space can be. We intend to strip out the asphalt-covered parking and create an underground, multi-level parking structure, which would be layered with the new green community park and an adjacent center. All of this was proposed in the Master Plan. 

The Governor is committed to our vision and the transformation of Exposition Park. He has continually expressed his support and included in his proposed budget for this year $351 million in state funding to complete this major infrastructure project. 

The fact that the Governor provided this initial down payment on the project solidifies the state’s commitment to green infrastructure in our area. By doing so, he’s creating the single largest investment in the history of South LA, and the project will be run through a project labor agreement. This would be the first project in Southern California run by the state and completed through a project labor agreement. It sets a high bar, and it all started with the Master Plan that Billie Greer had chaired a committee for. We are so thrilled about these updates– that we can affirmatively say these projects are no longer just concepts, but they're may be reality in the next few years.

How has the Lucas Museum and related inclusions affected the Park’s Master Plan execution? 

Andrea Ambriz:
That's right, and it’s such a good question because as we look at historical maps of the park, one will see all of the different parking around this entire park– it was a concrete jungle. 

The museum is transforming the western part of Exposition Park on Vermont, Bill Robertson Lane, and MLK. It is transforming that end of the park into a new green outdoor area. More importantly, we are seeing a transformation of Exposition Park from an urban heat island into a green park destination for the community, and making it inclusive for those who haven't been able to use the park historically. 

In the past, most folks would’ve driven into the park, gone to one institution, walked back to the parking lot, and then left the park. They wouldn't have spent the day here. Now, we have so many different options and opportunities for people to visit the park as we’re building out this destination focal point. 

The Lucas Museum and its new green space are transforming not only the environmental aspects of Exposition Park but also the community. Yes, building out the park as a destination to welcome all of these visitors is important, but we’re also meeting the needs of the local community. 

This is a community with unique needs. The local community is one of the most park-deficient areas in the entire state of California. They have less than 1-acre per 1,000 residents, compared to the national average of 10-acres per 1000 residents. Additionally, this community suffers from some of the worst extreme heat, and we are seeing multiple health impacts on the local community. This new green park is going to bring public health benefits and will play a major role in the transformation of Exposition Park. We are not just meeting parking needs, we are checking-off boxes in wellness, health, sports engagement, and community outreach, to name a few.

Concerning mental health, residents in city environments without access to green space are 21% more likely to have anxiety disorders and 39% more likely to have mood disorders. Here we are in this wonderful moment in time to provide improved wellness for our community residents. It checks so many boxes and mobilizes us to meet Lucas Museum at this moment alongside all these other changes. 

Part of this “moment” involves serving the communities that historically haven't been able to access and use the park; part of Park’s mandate also is to attract the millions of international visitors attending global sporting events in the coming years.

Share how the Park is planning through infrastructure improvements on serving both populations. 

Andrea Ambriz:
We are lucky and challenged to have the global spotlight on us in just a few years. Who's counting? I am. It's around 1,500 days before we get to the 2028 Olympics. 

Not only do we have to prepare for these increased visitors - which means infrastructure improvements, wayfinding, and sufficient safety mechanisms to visit us, but it also means marketing this park as a destination. While the ‘84 Olympics served to elevate the Park’s presence in the LA community, and arguably in the state and country, we now have the opportunity as the only landmark in modern history to host three Olympiads. 

We now serve as a full tourist destination, and we have to do a great job of communicating that to the public by sharing our story. Letting folks know that there's a moment before, during, and after the Olympics in which they are a part by just visiting Exposition Park. 

There's such incredible value for us to have the backdrop of these cultural and art institutions for the Olympics. We are promoting and exposing our values to the international community by saying not only are we going to have these incredible world-class sports stadiums host these games,  but right across the street, you can also see the Natural History Museum that shows the history of Los Angeles and California through nature. You’d also see our giant space shuttle, Endeavor, that is now on-site. 

The job is unprecedented when you compare it to the Paris 2024 Olympics. They’ve done a lot to build out new venues, but we don’t necessarily have to do that. Do we need infrastructure improvements and upgrades? Absolutely… but we’re not starting from scratch. We can showcase our core values in an unprecedented way. As the only site in modern history to host three Olympiads– there's nothing compared to that and as long as we get that story out, people are going to be driven to the park.

For decades Expo Park leadership has been tasked with encouraging collaboration and cooperation among its independent stakeholders. Share how you’ve been able to achieve success- especially reaccommodating the parking needs of your stakeholders and visitors. 

Limited parking is a challenge. Cross-communication is a challenge. Coordination is a challenge, but we can’t focus on the challenges. We need to think about our common interests and find ways to cooperate – which we do. 

Together, we have to do whatever we can to build-up this space. That includes communicating with the public and visitors when they're here at the park on how to navigate around the Park itself. It is a 160-acre parcel in the middle of the city, so one can get confused when they're walking, let alone driving. We want to create communications for wayfinding, to get from point A to point B, and that's something that we can all agree on because everyone wants to ensure that visitors can find them. Another success factor is drawing on public resources, whether state, county or federal, we can all count on aligning and supporting one another. An important component is the private sector. There’s such value to public-private partnerships here and all of these institutions are consistently coordinating with private partners. Exposition Park as its own entity hadn’t fully done that in the past. There's such a huge opportunity for us to do so, and that’s  why we have created a new Exposition Park Foundation. We’re currently working on the process to become a 501(c)3, which will enable us to make additional investments into the park through private sector and philanthropic partners. I like to think that these things will improve the entire operation – a rising tide lifts all boats. 

Could you expand on the improvements being made to the pedestrian experience of the Park?

Andrea Ambriz:
The southern end of the new park site is going to have a tremendous impact on the pedestrian experience. Currently, there’s no aesthetically pleasing entrance to the park. As I see it, when folks are looking from the southern end into Exposition Park, it's a visual pay-to-play experience due to the commonly ticketed venues. 

On the northern end, it's a little different. There have been some incredible investments through our partners, USC and the LA County Natural History Museum, and then we have some open lawns that make the park more accessible and inviting, but it's not a big space.  

The southern end directly faces the community, and that’s where we need to make some investments. That's why we're focusing our efforts there to completely transform that area. 

What you see there today is people riding their bikes, or skateboards, and just walking around parking lots. One of the biggest heartaches that I have is when I see a mother with a stroller walking around or I see kids riding their bikes on the asphalt-covered parking lots; I think to myself “we can do so much better.” Occasionally, I see some of the local high school’s track teams running laps within the space too. All of these observations tell us that people want to walk, they want to jog, and they want to recreate both passively and actively in an open green space. We have the space, and there's no better opportunity for use of our land resources than to meet these community needs. 

LA promised in the Olympics bid to have an Olympic Arts Festival. Have there been conversations about how Exposition Park could showcasing art and art festivals and other like events around the ’28 Olympic Games?

Andrea Ambriz:
We’re very excited to showcase our art institutions on campus, whether it's educational or visual. All of our institutions are ready and willing to join the conversation on how we can exhibit the art that is available here to the public. Interestingly enough, we’ve been thinking about other ways to engage the community for art programming. We are aware of mobile art competitions with local artists who could draw up sketches that display on our elevators, around parking spaces or lots, or buildings. 

The sky is the limit and I came into this position with that mindset. Every day I bring that into work and say, if there's a great opportunity for us to display art and culture, we will showcase the best of our local partners as an arts and culture destination. 

Lastly, Exposition Park Board Chair
Billie Greer once stated that Exposition Park may eventually, given all the investments you’ve described, eclipse Central Park and Millennium Park as a great urban park. 

Would you agree with this statement?

Andrea Ambriz:
Absolutely. I think we can be the new Central Park of the West and we will be. There’s an even better opportunity for us to offer more to visitors than other traditional parks have. We have two world-class sports and entertainment venues, including two championship teams. We have a historic rose garden and a historic swimming stadium. We have sprawling lawns, and we're going to have this new open and green space at the southern end. There is nothing like Exposition Park. It just needs the love, attention, and resources from different leaders to rise to this moment and say, “let's expand the endless opportunities but let's do the work to implement them in a time-defined moment”. That's where we are. 

By 2028, folks looking back at pictures will agree that this was the transformative moment and look at what Exposition Park is now. It is going to be a legacy for generations to come. Our children and grandchildren are going to say, that “Exposition Park is a part of my LA life” and I want the same for others. I'm just so excited that I get to lead Exposition Park at this exciting time. 


© 2024 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.