The brand new fountain sculpture wasn't the only thing making a splash Thursday on California Avenue, where a crowd of merchants, residents and beaming dignitaries congregated to watch a ribbon get snipped and to celebrate the completion of a streetscape project that has been six years in the making.
Gathered in a newly landscaped plaza near the Caltrain station, Mayor Karen Holman, City Manager James Keene and several business owners from Palo Alto's "second downtown" welcomed what they see as a new era for the eclectic neighborhood.
Approved by the council in 2009 in the face of intense merchant opposition, the $7.2-million project included reduction of lanes from four to two, new crosswalks, new street furniture all along the business district, two new plazas, bike lanes, widened sidewalks and new lights.
At the center of the Park Avenue plaza stood "Confluence," a recently installed 14-foot-tall sculpture designed by artist Mike Szabo. A marked departure from the quaint, bowl-shaped "birdbath" fountain that once occupied the site, the sleek and curving sculpture was a fitting sign for an area that is undergoing a period of rapid commercial growth.
With the rare spell of rain giving way to sunshine in the afternoon, Holman welcomed the crowd by alluding to the project's tendentious history.
"It was not an easy process. It was a long process. And to try to get to an agreement and have a successful outcome -- I think congratulations are in order for both the staff and the retailers," Holman said.
Keene got an assist from the Beatles in describing the project. After "Here Comes the Sun" serenaded the crowd through the loudspeakers, Keene alluded to a few other Beatles songs that could apply to the project, including "The Long and Winding Road," and "Come Together," before shouting, "Come on, we finally made it here!"
"We're committed to making sure that what is a really good street is on its way to being an absolutely great street," Keene said.
Among the merchants who attended the ceremony were Jessica Roth of European Cobblery and Terry Shuchat of Keeble and Shuchat Photography. Both had initially opposed the plan to reduce lanes on California Avenue, predicting that it would lead to traffic tie-ups. Roth marked the occasion by thanking the area's neighbors, clients and customers for continuing to patronize the businesses throughout the construction period, which has taken just over a year.
Shuchat, who at one point participated in a lawsuit aimed at stopping the project, acknowledged that the merchants' fears didn't come to pass and that when it comes to traffic, "it's all working out fine."
"I was one of the many many merchants who was 200 percent opposed to this project," Shuchat said. "Now that it's been completed though, I really like it."