A group of downtown business leaders and Palo Alto parks advocates have revived plans to renovate Lytton Plaza.
Former Mayor Leland Levy, Garden Court Hotel General Manager Barbara Gross and others are orchestrating a three-way partnership between the city, the Palo Alto Downtown Business and Professional Association and Friends of the Palo Alto Parks to fund a facelift for the .2-acre public park.
Problems with the park roll off Levy's tongue.
"Lytton Plaza is worn, dated and only marginally functional and unattractive and underused," Levy said.
For example, there isn't anywhere comfortable to sit to eat or have a conversation, said Gross, a board member of the downtown association.
"I think everybody has known for years that Lytton Plaza needs work and has the potential to be a prime, quintessential keynote spot in the downtown," Gross said.
In place of the scuffed circular benches and sparse greenery, the partnership is proposing two groves of leafy trees, a stage, lights and a fountain.
A small hedge would border Emerson and University, including the sidewalks in the plaza. And, the "Digital DNA" egg-shaped sculpture could remain in the park's center, Levy said. An earlier go-round left the egg out of the plans and roused the ire of the city's Public Arts Commission, which commissioned the sculpture.
He said the design accords with the city's 1997 Downtown Master Plan.
The redesign would cost $600,000, with half paid for by the city, Levy said.
That design will be considered by the city's Parks and Recreation Commission Tuesday and by the Downtown Business Association Wednesday morning.
Levy and Gross both emphasized the group's desire to involve the community in the park's redesign.
"We're just starting along this road," Gross said. "We want to make sure this is a collaborative effort."
Lytton Plaza is known as a venue for free speech and a haven for hanging-out youth and the homeless. It became notorious in the late 1960s and early 1970s as a site for gatherings, demonstrations and riots relating to the Vietnam War, an electronic-sound-curfew ordinance, an anti-commune ordinance and the staging area for a window-smashing episode encouraged by the revolutionary group Venceremos.
Gross said the plaza's renovation wasn't driven by a desire to oust its current inhabitants.
"Everybody's welcome," Gross said. "(We want) to enhance the space it is to welcome more people who would like to spend time there."
Revamping Lytton Plaza has been discussed at least for 11 years. Most recently in 2004, when Levy, developer Roxy Rapp and Pizza My Heart owner Chuck Hammers proposed a piazza-style redesign with a sunken fountain.
This project isn't going to benefit only a single business, Gross said.
"Lytton Plaza is a park. It's a city park," she said. "The idea that this benefits one business is really not legitimate."
Buoyed by the success of the Children's Library restoration and Heritage Park playground, Gross said the time is ripe for private-public partnerships.
"There's a huge desire that Lytton Plaza become a showplace for the downtown," Levy said. "We feel there is momentum."
He said the project "has the least controversiality of almost any I've seen" in Palo Alto.
Gross said the fundraising efforts will reach out to businesses as well as Palo Alto residents.
"This could be a terrific gathering place. That's really what we're looking for -- to maximize its potential," Gross said.
To contribute, visit Friends of the Palo Alto Parks at http://www.friendsofpaparks.org .