The effort to rebuild Lytton Plaza, which has been discussed for at least 11 years, has gained the most momentum. Within a few months, a private-public partnership — involving the city, the Palo Alto Downtown Association and Friends of the Palo Alto Parks — may be ready to formally introduce plans for the 0.2-acre University Avenue park, according to Barbara Gross, chair of the downtown association.
The $700,000 project, with $350,000 from the city, is intended to beautify the park — currently a haven for teens, young adults, the homeless and a designated "free speech" zone. The plaza should retain its focus, Gross said.
The redesigned Lytton Plaza will be a "vibrant, public space that we can all enjoy," said designer Gary Laymon, a landscape architect with San Francisco's The Guzzardo Partnership.
"It's a space that wants to greet you and say, 'Welcome; get out of your car,'" Laymon said. "It needs to have an open and fresh appearance."
Plans call for planter boxes and a row of trees lining Emerson Street and University Avenue, removing the small wall there now. A fountain, with space to sit at its perimeter, is planned for the park's corner near the intersection, Laymon said. The fountain will be "relatively quiet," able to mask some traffic noise, but not loud enough to interfere with conversations.
Two clusters of trees are planned and the "Digital DNA" egg sculpture will remain, although organizers haven't decided exactly where it will be placed, Gross said.
The angle of the paving pattern would also be changed, cutting from Emerson to University to acknowledge people's desire to cut across the plaza, Laymon said. He said he plans to use permeable material and energy-saving lighting to keep the project environmentally friendly.
The plaza would have plenty of lights, but they will be focused on the plaza so as not to pollute the sky.
"It feels safe. It will feel like you are in a room," Laymon said.
The plaza would also have movable tables and chairs, so they can be placed in the sun or shade or grouped together, Laymon said.
It would also require an "active custodian," who would maintain the plantings and ensure the tables and chairs are locked up at night, he said.
The organizers don't know who that would be yet, he said.
Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto said she even thinks Lytton Plaza should be expanded, removing at least one row of parking spaces in the Emerson Street lot, which would provide a link to the alley, eventually turned into a beautified, walkable paseo.
And one block away, at High Street's parking lot P, architect Joe Bellomo has designed a five-story parking structure, connected with a bridge over High Street to the five-year-old parking lot R structure he designed.
Bellomo said he wasn't hired to work on the project but consulted closely with city planners.
"This is not on the city's radar at this point because of economics. I'm planting a seed of thought," he said.
The 250-space structure would have a sweeping 14-foot-tall first floor, making it accessible to garbage and delivery trucks that use the lot. To get to the second story, however, a potential parker would have to enter lot R across the street, then cross a two-lane bridge — with a pedestrian pathway — over High Street.
Bellomo said he didn't want to put a duplicate ramp in the proposed structure because it would take up too much space.
"Plus, (the bridge) is just cool," he said.
He said he researched height clearances and the support needed for the bridge.
"We really carefully looked at the idea," he said.
Bellomo also designed the University Circle mixed-use development across from the train station on University and Alma Street and a cafŽ for Facebook, in addition to parking lot R.
Bellomo admitted to having a passion for developing the west side of downtown, which he calls the "entry."
"In 1988 it was deemed by several real estate companies the dead end of town," Bellomo said. "I have always felt that a transit-oriented corridor is vital. That's what creates urban texture, urban connection. That's part of the livable, walkable Palo Alto."
Kishimoto said the Friday morning introduction of the parking structure was the first she had heard of it.
But she would rather first ensure the city was using its existing parking spaces efficiently, perhaps by installing an electronic parking-management system that could direct drivers to empty spaces and charging based on demand.
Although the parking structure plan is new, reviving Lytton Plaza has been discussed for years. Former mayor Le Levy and developer Roxy Rapp, longtime advocates for changing the park, are still key members of the organizing committee, Gross said.
Ten people have already pledged $10,000 each toward the project, but the committee is aiming to raise $350,000, she said.