Although well-loved, the Civic Center Plaza could use a spruce-up. For years, the downtown square has been largely vacant, save for about a dozen wrought-iron tables and a fountain that has been shut off since 2014.
On Tuesday night, May 22, City Council members discussed ways to rejuvenate the plaza, which has become the main gathering space for political rallies, public concerts and community events. Their plan is to double down on everything the plaza does right by creating a relaxing spot with amenities designed to bring out more residents.
Among the ideas proposed by city recreation staff is to install a giant chessboard, also suitable for checkers. The $2,000 game set would be life-size, large enough for 32 people if they so desired to assume the role of kings, queens, knights (but mostly pawns). Lacking enough people, players could use the city's set of giant chess pieces, but city staff say they will need to be brought in after sundown.
Recreation staff also hope to add a beanbag toss game and a set of durable outdoor musical instruments. These instruments are already available at many parks around Mountain View, and they're designed to be easily interactive for anyone, especially children, to make their own music.
People at the plaza are using its tables and chairs every day, and city staff say they want to add more. They plan to add a variety of new seating, including about a dozen Adirondack chairs and at least two Soofa benches. Costing about $4,500 apiece, these solar-powered benches allow anyone to quickly charge their cell phones or other devices. The Soofa benches also provide data analytics by reading wireless devices to deduce how many people are moving through the area or attending a public event, said Recreation Manager John Marchant. The company would charge an extra $1,500 per bench for this service.
"We could see how many people are at an event, and we could use that year-to-year," he said. "It's an extra analytic that we could use if we so choose."
To make the concrete plaza more inviting, Marchant proposed adding a synthetic turf area, suitable for relaxing. This area would be bordered by new planter boxes and umbrellas to provide shade.
Beyond the infrastructure, the city's recreation team also hopes to revitalize the plaza's public events. Summer movie nights have been a popular draw for families, and city staff would like to expand into a new fall series that would be geared toward adults.
The city's free concerts on the first Friday of each month, April through September, have also been successful. Staff say they would like to add more performances on the third Fridays, perhaps including theatrical plays or different types of performers. Councilwoman Pat Showalter plugged dancing.
"Line dancing, folk dancing, square dancing -- it's a fun activity and it's also really important for health," she said.
On that note, city staff also requested $20,000 for a new sound system that they said would greatly help attract more musical acts.
The plaza's decrepit fountain could also get a fix-up. The fountain was originally drained and shut off during the statewide drought, but it was later discovered that it had a leak. Water was apparently dripping down into the public garage underneath the plaza. Public Works Director Mike Fuller said the fountain will need to be relined before it can be switched back on.
The plan was discussed in a study session prior to the council's regular meeting.
Many of the physical improvements to the plaza are expected to be finished by early 2019. In total, the upgrades are expected to cost $49,500.
For the public benefit, it was a bargain, said Mayor Lenny Siegel.
"This is an inexpensive way to get a lot done," Siegel said. "This is a good time to invest in something that will have lasting value for the community."