An Occasion to Go Barefoot Downtown
Friday, July 27, 2012
Swati Pandey

Today I kicked off my shoes and socks and walked through a fountain to help celebrate the opening of Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles.

A dozen years ago, the Grand Avenue Project was an unreasonable idea.

Back in 2000, downtown L.A. was a very different place. There was no cathedral. There was no Disney Hall. There was no arts high school. The public space east of the Music Center was inaccessible and rundown.

At the time I was working with Mayor Dick Riordan to raise money for the stalled Disney Hall project, I realized the city and county each had parcels of land but no master plan. All world-class cities have vibrant metropolitan centers, and I saw the potential for Grand Avenue to be a cultural promenade that would draw people from around Southern California.

But everyone insisted that the county and city would never work together, that there would never be agreement on how to develop Grand Avenue. You know by now after reading “The Art of Being Unreasonable” that when I’m told that something can’t be done, that it’s impossible or unconventional, I kick into action.

It’s been 12 years, but thanks to determined civic leadership, the vision of a vibrant downtown is becoming a reality. We created a committee of citizen volunteers and then convinced the county and city to create a joint powers authority to oversee the Grand Avenue Project. We recruited a strong and committed developer, Related Companies. And through our negotiations with Related, we wanted them to have some skin in the game: they put down a $50 million non-refundable deposit.

It’s unreasonable to think that a public park could be built without taxpayer money. But that’s exactly what’s been done. Related’s deposit plus interest is what enabled Grand Park, the first step in the overall project, to be built. And the 14 million people of our region can enjoy the priceless pleasure of a stroll in the sun, and if they’re game, maybe even a skip through the fountain.

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