Downtown plaza to get a facelift

City plans giant chess set, new concerts, snazzy benches

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."

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12 people like this
Posted by Trevor
a resident of Shoreline West
on May 25, 2018 at 2:26 pm

I think this these are great things to do with the plaza. I can't wait to see it when it's all done.

13 people like this
Posted by SWAN Mom
a resident of Shoreline West
on May 25, 2018 at 2:30 pm

So glad to see the City spend money on something to make our downtown more vibrant and fun. More chance to connect with the community in public spaces is one of the great benefits of a more urban environment and I think the City should do more of this as we grow in population.

21 people like this
Posted by PeaceLove
a resident of Shoreline West
on May 25, 2018 at 3:33 pm

>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.<

NOOOOOO! Surveillance capitalism is disgusting. You want to pay a company to spy on local wireless devices, ie everyone's phone? Please NO, NO, NO! Please do NOT put in benches that spy on citizens cell phones. To do so is to participate in the ongoing creation of the totalitarian surveillance state.

Mountain View, which is home to Google (a company that has made it's $billions entirely on the surveillance capitalism model) should take the lead in OPPOSING SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISM in all its forms. Especially given all we know about how private companies like Google and Facebook (and Soofa, presumably) will collaborate with any government agency that comes asking for their data.

Make the Plaza beautiful WITHOUT spying on all citizens who happen to walk through it.

17 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 25, 2018 at 7:59 pm

I was so excited about this news until I read the bit about the smart benches. I agree wholeheartedly with the previous commenter who urged the city to rethink furthering the surveillance state. I don't want Big Brother to know every time I walk by to dine at one of Mountain views fine restaurants, and it would absolutely make me think very carefully before attending any kind of political event in downtown Mountain View. I'm afraid of the chilling effect that these benches would have on our otherwise amazing community.

15 people like this
Posted by D
a resident of Rex Manor
on May 26, 2018 at 1:20 am

I love tbe idea of adding more movie nights for adults,outdoor concerts,adding more shade and fixing or upgrading fountain.

Though I am strongly opposed to the smart benches - they are not necessary -
A waste of money and take away from what is supposed to be a relaxing carefree place to sit.

14 people like this
Posted by Amelia
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 26, 2018 at 8:13 am

Replace the fountain with a water feature kids can play in. That will draw families. Palo Alto has something nice like this.

6 people like this
Posted by patiobear
a resident of Blossom Valley
on May 26, 2018 at 10:12 am

patiobear is a registered user.

Nature abhors a vacuum.

When man sees an open space he wants to fill it.

4 people like this
Posted by No spy benches
a resident of Blossom Valley
on May 26, 2018 at 4:30 pm

Big brother used to just be the feds but now its down at the city level. Why is the city paying $1,500 to spy on people?

9 people like this
Posted by shermorr
a resident of Monta Loma
on May 27, 2018 at 12:59 pm

Making the space more usable will be great! Love the idea of more free community events and a place for people to gather and interact.

But why have a water feature when we're sure to face drought conditions again and end up turning it off?

And definitely no features that allow for surveillance!

10 people like this
Posted by Darin
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 28, 2018 at 3:26 pm

Darin is a registered user.

Human chess isn't really a game people play. It's a performance, a stage show. As a game, it is terribly boring for the majority of "pieces", who move at most a couple times before being captured.

Giant chess isn't much better. I used to work for a company that had a giant chess set in the lobby. It was hardly used (except when employees' kids visited, and then they weren't really playing chess).

12 people like this
Posted by Reader
a resident of another community
on May 29, 2018 at 12:57 pm

Most of those ideas won't make a bit of difference. I suggest more live music and an outdoor cafe that people will actually want to go to. Cafe Barrone in Menlo Park is a good example. You could have something very much like that at the downtown Mtn View plaza.

7 people like this
Posted by Amanda
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 29, 2018 at 2:21 pm

The giant chess set is a nice idea, but it would be a waste of space and rarely used. Not to mention the storage it would take up and how annoying it would be for the city workers to have to put them in and out every day.

I also think a nice splash pad would be a great addition. Some synthetic turf, umbrellas and chairs alongside a splash pad would be a really great and family friendly addition. I know that when I lived in the DC area, we went out of our way to go to towns with the splash pad with our kids. It’s a big family draw and fun for adults too

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