A firm led by a renowned landscape architect that has worked on urban parks in New York and New Jersey has been selected as the designer of the proposed Palisades Garden Walk & Town Square in Santa Monica.
Following objections by some council members about the selection process, the Santa Monica City Council voted 4-2 Tuesday, April 13th to approve a $3.2 million contract for James Corner Field Operations to conduct the landscape architectural design of the seven-acre project at the Civic Center site.
The planned Palisades Garden Walk, which has been called “The Central Park of Santa Monica,” includes a six-acre park north of Olympic Drive, west of Main Street, south of the Santa Monica Freeway and east of Ocean Avenue, as well as a one-acre Town Square in front of City Hall designed for community activities.
The project is part of the new parks and open space element of the Civic Center Specific Plan. Another project being considered for the area is the capping of the Santa Monica Freeway at the McClure Tunnel.
Mary Mulder, a principal architect for the city, said that one of the goals for the proposed project at the Civic Center, which is near the planned terminus of the Metro Exposition light rail line, is to attract people.
“I think what is exciting is that it’s not just a parkÖit’s an urban connector opportunity,” she said.
City Manager Rod Gould said the city issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to attract the most qualified design teams and a selection panel of outside experts in design and planning as well as city staff reviewed the submissions. After 24 applicants responded to the RFQ, the selection panel narrowed the list of finalists to six and ultimately recommended James Corner Field Operations.
The panel selected James Corner based on its broad experience in working with diverse communities, the quality of its projects and the firm’s high level of innovation, staff said. The firm is renowned for such projects as the High Line project, an urban park in Manhattan, and is working on other projects including the Great Falls Park, a 40-acre destination park in Patterson, New Jersey.
Some members of the public told the council they were pleased with the process that involved design experts and city staff in choosing James Corner as the design consultant.
“I think this seems like a great choice,” resident Jerry Rubin said. “I understand that you shouldn’t politicize the process and you should trust city staff to make these decisions.”
Will Wright of the Los Angeles chapter the Institute of Architects, read a letter from the president of the organization saying that the selection process for the park’s designer was well conceived and transparent and used a committee of qualified design professionals with strong city representation.
“We are delighted that the city has implemented such a process for such an important civic project and we believe this supports your core objective to deliver public amenities of the highest caliber,” Wright told the council.
But City Councilman Bobby Shriver said that with a project of this importance, he found it surprising that the City Council was deciding on only one design team that was selected by a panel consisting of some representatives from outside the city. Shriver, who said he had nothing against James Corner, added that he didn’t think it was unprofessional to ask for alternative choices and the city, which is the project’s client, should have been more involved in the process.
“In a way that I would understand is including the city as the client in the selection of their designer, I don’t think we’ve done that,” Shriver said. “I think the client should be involved in the selection process of their designer.”
City Councilman Bob Holbrook also said he would have liked for city officials to have been more involved in deciding which firm was the final option. Shriver and Holbrook were the two council members who voted against the selection.
City Councilwoman Gleam Davis countered that she thought it was unfair to suggest that the client was not involved, pointing to the significant amount of input from staff.
“Our staff have shown time and againÖ that they are very capable in selecting companies, agencies and organizations that will be able to work in the Santa Monica way, with tons of public input at the appropriate time,” Davis said.
The councilwoman added that the council was only considering the designer of the project and it was not yet the time for public input on specifics of the project.
“This is merely the selection of someone who is going to work with the public to create what I am confident will be a marvelous space in the city,” she said.
Councilman Kevin McKeown said when city officials bought the land for the park space they had great hope for the future of the Civic Center, and while they may not know what the future property is going to look like, he is confident in the selection of James Corner’s firm.
“To have this firm work with this community I think is a dream come true,” he said.
The design consultant and city staff plan to initiate an extensive community engagement process for the new parks, including innovative activities for community involvement and periodic review.