The latest element in Palo Alto's roughly $4.5-million effort to enhance the ground floor at City Hall will be nearly impossible for visitors to 250 Hamilton Ave. to miss or ignore.
Under a proposal that the City Council is set to approve on Monday night, the city will install a digital mural of slowly changing imagery in the building's lobby. Entitled "Conversation," the prominent art project will feature images of Palo Alto residents, public announcements, news clips and interactive opportunities for visitors.
The council is preparing to approve a $174,477 contract with artist Susan Narduli to design, develop and install the new-media artwork. The piece is expected to ultimately cost about $250,000.
The expenditure is an addition to the $4.3 million that the council has already allocated for the renovation of City Hall's lobby, a project that despite its high cost and visibility was approved on the council's consent calendar last summer without any discussion or dissent.
After facing public backlash during the election season about the cost of the project, the council held a discussion last week in which City Manager James Keene and council members made a case for why the renovation is necessary.
Councilman Larry Klein argued on Nov. 17, that the building has been long neglected and has serious upgrade needs. The goal of the project, Klein said, is to make City Hall a "usable building" and prevent it from falling into a state of disrepair that many associate with the Cubberley Community Center.
The project includes, among other things, reconstruction of two small meeting rooms on the ground floor; relocation of the Utilities Department's customer-service representatives to the ground floor; and creation of a new public meeting room adjacent to the lobby, a site that currently houses the Human Resources Department.
"Like any big building you need to spend money on it on a regular basis, and the city hasn't," Klein said.
Keene called the City Hall renovation a "good and necessary project." He noted that the existing Council Conference Room is small, cramped and has an outdated air conditioning system that blows air directly at council members. He called it "absurd" that the council has to meet in a space that not only doesn't work for council members but also doesn't work for members of the public.
The "Conversation" piece, much like the refurbished conference rooms, aims make City Hall more welcoming and interactive. At the same time, the latest addition to the City Hall's renovation belies the notion that this is merely a maintenance project. According to a new staff report, the digital piece is "anticipated to be a destination artwork for visitors and residents alike."
It will allow the city to broadcast meetings, display way-finding information and agendas, show footage of neighborhoods and residents, and offer residents a chance to interact with the city, according to the report.
Keene told the council on Nov. 17 that the idea behind the art work is to make City Hall a "place of coming together." The new report makes the same point.
"By creating and installing an interactive public artwork into the lobby of our City Hall, we are asking the community to treat the space as an extension of community, right at ground level within City Hall," the report states. "This piece will serve to invite citizens of Palo Alto to interact with a significant work of art that can also inform community and government through a diverse, collective voice reflecting the open, engaged and creative government we value."
Like the other components of the City Hall project, the approval of the new digital display is listed on the council's consent calendar, which means it will be automatically approved unless the council decides to pull it from the calendar.