Civic Park in downtown L.A. breaks ground

City and county leaders held a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday morning for the multibillion-dollar Grand Avenue Project's first piece: a lush new urban park that will stretch from the Music Center to City Hall.

Crews have already begun construction on the 16-acre, four-block Civic Park, which will include a dog run, several plazas and a performance stage and lawn. At the ceremony Thursday, Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina praised the project as "a much-needed oasis."

"We're trying to create a park for everyone," she said. "It will be an inviting place to come, eat lunch and bask in the California sun."

That sun, she noted to laughter, was "maybe a little much" on Thursday. By 10 a.m., the thermometer had crept past 80 degrees, causing balloons to burst in the heat and a quartet of jazz musicians to mop their brows between songs. Aides handed out bottles of water to politicians.

The design firm in charge of the park, Rios Clementi Hale Studios, displayed an architectural model of what the space will look like, as well as pictures of the 140 species of plants that will make up the gardens. The vegetation — including English lavender, California lilac and African tulips — looks to be heavy on pinks and purples.

Perhaps the best part of the park, city officials said, is that it is already paid for.

In 2007, the developer of the mixed-use Grand Avenue Project, Related Cos., prepaid the city and county $50 million for the park in anticipation of the rent from the project's first phase. With interest, that fund has grown to nearly $56 million.

The economic slowdown has stalled the rest of the development, which calls for high-rise condos and retail outlets.

"The recession has put the community development project in a holding pattern," Molina said at the groundbreaking. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called the development process "a rocky road."

Villaraigosa praised Eli Broad, the billionaire philanthropist who once chaired the Grand Avenue Committee that has played a key role in planning the mixed-use project.

Earlier this week, Broad told city and county officials that he was willing to pay $7.7 million for a 99-year lease on a plot of city-owned land near the Civic Park site where he would build a museum for his vast collection of contemporary art. He has said his museum would play a big role in revitalizing the Grand Avenue corridor.

The park, Broad told the gathering Thursday, would also help.

"We have a long way to go before realizing the vision of Grand Avenue, but today is an important first step," he said. "Stay tuned."

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