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Friendlier downtown plaza proposed

Citizen Staff Writer



Downtown forces are brainstorming to turn the Jácome Plaza into a place where people want to eat lunch and stage events without the added expense of building a temporary stage and hauling in generators for power.

Initial ideas range from bringing a permanent stage and vendor booths onto the forlorn plaza to creating attractive lunch spots and an outdoor reading area for library patrons.

Library administrators, the city Parks & Recreation Department and the Downtown Tucson Partnership are bouncing around ideas on how to redesign the plaza that wraps around three sides of the Joel D. Valdez Main Library.

Glenn Lyons, chief executive of the downtown partnership, has had Jácome Plaza on his radar since his first day on the job last February.

“I walked through the plaza and said, ‘This doesn’t make any sense,’” Lyons said.

Library staff fully concur.

“I want to give this space a sense of purpose,” said librarian Coni Weatherford, who coordinated the Get Fit Festival on the plaza in September.

“There does not seem to be a concept to the design,” she said. “There’s not a sense of ‘That’s where I go to eat lunch. That’s where to go for a presentation, that’s where to go to buy food.’ ”

Lyons describes the plaza as the “forest” section in the northwest quadrant and the “prairie” along the southern half, with its sloped grass edged with red gravel.

Library and partnership participants in a Friday workshop especially railed against the red, bird-like sculpture called “Sonora” that sits just outside the library entrance – but not as art critics.

“You don’t want to walk under it,” said Karyn Prechtel, the main library’s manager.

“(The artist) had no idea all it would do was attract pigeons,” Weatherford said.

Lyons last summer had a preliminary chat with Mayor Bob Walkup, who told Lyons up to $70,000 in city Back to Basics funds may be available for initial improvements. Walkup chief of staff Andrew Greenhill confirmed those funds are available for Jácome Plaza and that he and the mayor will meet soon with Lyons.

Lyons has two first-stage improvements in mind:

• Create a contained outdoor reading area under the library overhang, which Pima County Public Library services manager Karen Thayer believes could be ready in late spring or summer if money is available.

• Flatten the first 15 feet of the sloped lawn nearest the Pennington Street sidewalk and provide an electrical conduit to create a dedicated space for sidewalk activities like the farmer’s market.

“We care an awful lot about what goes on out there,” said Karen Thayer, the library system’s No. 3 administrator. “If you could do this, it’s fabulous. We wanted to do this for 20 years (since the main library and plaza were built in 1990).”

Norris Design principal Stacey Weaks met with Lyons last summer to discuss his vision for downtown and latched onto the Jácome Plaza idea. The planning and landscape architecture firm has volunteered assistance since then and now has a $4,000 contract to put on last week’s workshop and use the input from it, parks officials and other city officials to draw up a conceptual plan by April.

Lyons wants to include a Jácome Plaza concept in his downtown revitalization plan that he wants in place by mid-April.

Lyons and Prechtel are inspired by the 1990s revitalization of Bryant Park behind the New York Public Library, described at www.bryant park.org/history/bryant-park-today.php.

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