The Daily Californian Online

City Council Endorses Plan for New Strawberry Creek Plaza Downtown

By Daniel Means
Contributing Writer
Monday, March 29, 2010
Category: News > Development and Capital Projects

The Berkeley City Council endorsed a proposed conceptual design for Strawberry Creek Plaza on Center Street that will resurface the creek from its underground culvert and create a pedestrian passageway that will be blocked off from vehicles. The image on the left shows what the area looks like currently, while the image on the right is a proposed conceptual design.

After a decade of deliberation, the Berkeley City Council voted 8-1 to endorse a proposed conceptual design for Strawberry Creek Plaza on Center Street at its meeting on March 23.

With council approval, city staff will now begin working with development firm Ecocity Builders to compile a technical study and identify possible sources of funding.

Walter Hood, an architect and UC Berkeley professor, developed the design for a plaza on Center between Oxford Street and Shattuck Avenue which will resurface the creek from its underground culvert and create a pedestrian passageway blocked off from vehicles.

The project has recently gained momentum, and Hood's design, which aims to combine both the urban and natural elements in the area, took the project in a "new direction," said Kirstin Miller, executive director of Ecocity Builders.

"Downtown lacks a focal point, a place of common gathering," she said. "The plaza could help give downtown a new sense of identity."

But some community members have said practical concerns, including the need to divert bus routes, inadequate delivery access to businesses in the plaza and a limited ability for police patrols, may render the project unfeasible.

"We've not yet heard that there's a design solution that meets the need for businesses," said Deborah Badhia, operations director for the Downtown Berkeley Association, which has yet to officially take a side on the issue.

Tonya Waterfield, senior supervisor at the Games of Berkeley Store on Center Street, said the elimination of parking spaces may also pose a major problem for businesses.

"The initial deconstruction and construction will play havoc on us," she said. "We get a lot of people from Marin County and North Bay along with the South Bay-they drive."

However, multiple city officials still emphasized the long-term payoffs of the plaza on businesses in Berkeley.

"(The plaza) improves the atmosphere for pedestrians and could serve as a destination to attract customers which we desperately need," said Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who has consistently endorsed the proposal.

Though the project is consistent with the city's goal to revitalize downtown, Worthington said the plaza is a separate proposal from the Downtown Area Plan.

"We want (the plaza) to be dealt with separately, out of all the controversy," he said. "It's a freestanding project, and it's too important to delay it."

With the approval of the council, the next step for the project's developers is to provide the reports needed to apply for grant funding, Worthington said.

"In the next four weeks, we have to give them detailed, fine-tuned information and letters of support from the community and businesses to show breadth and depth of our support," he said.

Though the plaza has gone through a decade of meetings between the public, officials and developers, Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said additional community involvement will be needed to create a clearly defined vision for Center Street.

"There will be more public process that will hopefully both invite and engage business owners, environmentalists and other stakeholders to create a final design that is a win-win for everyone," Arreguin said.

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