Taking a Peek

This week I seem to have a lot to cover, so prepare accordingly. First I want to give you some feedback on the recent panel discussions around a downtown park (or parks). Following that I peeked in on a number of projects around the city, and of course have some updates on them. Enjoy…

For those of you who missed them — and based on the attendance, that was a great many of you, unfortunately — the series of panel discussions exploring our opportunities for a downtown park (or, more likely, downtown parks, plural) concluded on Thursday evening. Sponsored by the Redwood City Parks & Arts Foundation, each discussion was a moderated panel of three creative professionals who are experienced in designing innovative outdoor spaces. Each panelist gave a brief presentation on how they successfully (and, in some cases, unsuccessfully) converted one or more urban spaces into places for relaxation and play. They then answered questions from the moderator and the audience.

While each panel discussion was ostensibly focused on one of the three city-owned sites that may someday be converted to a park, in reality most of the discussions were more general in nature. Rather than presenting concrete ideas for specific sites, the speakers have instead sparked new thoughts about what a park can be. As for specific ideas for our sites, those will come later, during the design process.

Redwood City’s Council is focusing on three sites: Library Lot A (the parking lot where Main Street meets Middlefield Road); the Main Street/City Hall lot (the large lot behind City Hall and the Jefferson Avenue Post Office); and both banks of Redwood Creek from Bradford Street to Highway 101. While the Council might end up choosing just one of these sites, they would rather develop all three. As it turns out, these sites all are tied together by Redwood Creek, which runs within a culvert beneath both parking lots before emerging at Bradford Street. Given the importance of Redwood Creek in Redwood City’s history — one could argue that the city’s very existence is due to this creek — a connected series of parks that pay homage to this historic waterway seems natural. Together these parks would be key to a mile-long path running from Redwood City’s main library out to the Bay Trail, on the east side of Highway 101. On Thursday the panelists noted that this configuration means that we have something rare and really special: the opportunity to establish a simple connection between our downtown and the bay. Although some other Bay Area cities have parks out on their waterfront — Palo Alto being one prime example — to get there one has to drive, and most people simply aren’t willing to make the journey. But because our downtown is so close to our waterfront, we have a much better chance of getting people to walk between the parks and then out to the bay.

Although two of the sites today are parking lots, their differing sizes and surroundings would likely be reflected in each park’s purpose and use. The library lot, for instance, is smaller and is exposed to busy streets on two sides. Thus, it may be a good place for supervised activities that align closely with the library. The Main Street/City Hall lot, on the other hand, is large and well protected from the surrounding streets, enabling a variety of simultaneous activities. While this site may not be entirely redeveloped — some parking may be retained, and emergency vehicle access must remain for the buildings that wrap the site’s perimeter — it is nevertheless large enough to support play areas, food trucks, shade structures or whatever else the community deems appropriate. As for the site along the banks of the creek, because of its linear nature it would be more of a trail than a park. However, it could have benches, some outdoor exercise equipment (making it a par course) and informational signs that inform park users about Redwood City history as well  as about the immediate natural surroundings.

Whatever we end up with, it isn’t (or they aren’t) likely to be what you typically think of when you picture a city park. From what we heard, in order for an urban park to be successful, it needs to appeal to a broad audience, not just children. While a large swath of green would provide a welcome break from downtown’s sea of asphalt, concrete, brick and glass, it would be unlikely to draw in the numbers of people needed to make a park successful. So although there may be some grass, and there may be some play equipment, likely we’ll also see a number of programmed experiences that will actively work to draw people in. These experiences will likely be along the lines of, but complimentary to, the kinds of things that are just starting to get back underway in Courthouse Square, now that the good summer weather seems to finally be here (to stay, I hope!). And those activities should ideally suited to the unique characteristics of each park site. Finally, we heard that the city must be willing to experiment with those activities, building on successes and rapidly winding down failures.

These three panel discussions were sponsored by the Redwood City Parks & Arts Foundation, and were not part of a formal process to design and gain approval for a downtown park. Rather, they were intended to spark ideas and conversation, and to help keep the spotlight on a project that, to be honest, is many years away from breaking ground — if it ever does. One clear message from the panelists was that, although a consultant will be hired by the city to actually design and cost out some options for our City Council to consider, we the public must have many chances to provide input on the design process. And that input shouldn’t just be in the form of surveys. Because people often don’t know what they truly want until they’ve experienced it, the city should host inexpensive pilot projects, likely in the form of “pop up” parks, on the sites in question.

Here’s hoping that the city can find the money for these parks. The panelists made it loud and clear that parks can be expensive not only to build, but to maintain — and that maintenance is critical in order for the park to remain somewhere that people will want to come to and enjoy. Parks are great, but only if they are truly wanted and used. Here’s hoping that Redwood City will be able to build just such a thing downtown.

Although Redwood City is not yet building a park downtown, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a great deal of construction going on. As has been the case for several years now, parts of our downtown remain under construction. Some of that is moving towards a conclusion, such as the four-story office/retail building at the corner of Broadway and Jefferson Avenue. I was down by that building on Friday and noticed that the side facing the Main Street parking lot (some or all of which may someday become a downtown park!) appeared to be all buttoned up:

I also noted that the construction fences along Broadway were being taken down (or perhaps just being relocated); it appears that the contractors are getting ready to rebuild the sidewalk and the street along this side of the building. As someone who regularly walks in this area, I’ll certainly be glad to see that sidewalk back open to pedestrians! As you probably know, the office portion of this building has been completely leased by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the for-profit corporation that Mark Zuckerberg (of Facebook fame) and his wife Priscilla Chan founded in order to “advance human potential and promote equality in areas such as health, education, scientific research and energy”. As for this building’s large retail space, I last heard that a bank was negotiating a lease for the space. If that turns out to be the case, and a bank ends up on this prime downtown corner, well, that’ll be a bit of a shame. In order to encourage people to walk around our downtown we need retailers who will attract the attention of those passing by. I wouldn’t think that a bank would do that…

Close by, I peeked into the open doors of Coupa Cafe. They won’t be open for business for a while, but contractors are busily transforming the never-before-used space in the Marston building at the corner of Marshall Street and Main Street for them:

It looks like a bit of a mess, but that’s progress.

As long as I’m peeking into restaurants, I’ve been noting that the Old Port Lobster Shack, soon to open in the space next to wine bar Cru (in the “Box” building close to the Caltrain station) has been seemingly making good progress — although they’ve kept the windows tightly covered over, so I am limited to what glimpses I can get through the sometimes open front door. I don’t think that they are quite open yet (I haven’t checked today), but based on this picture of the interior I managed to grab about a week ago, they are indeed close:

And then there is Rolled Up Creamery, the tiny little ice cream place that took close to two years to get open. They’re open now, and I highly recommend checking them out. Located across from the City Pub at 2621 Broadway, Rolled Up Creamery advertises “hand rolled ice cream.” How do they do that? It turns out that they start with a liquid custard base that they squirt onto an extremely cold metal plate, along with flavorings (such as chocolate syrup) and other added ingredients (nuts, jimmies, etc.). They then use a metal scraper to work the custard before it freezes into ice cream. They spread the stuff much like crêpe batter, keeping it thin. Once the cream has hardened, they cut it into long strips that they then peel up into a series of rolls. Those rolls go into a cup, which they then top with whipped cream, more chocolate (if that is what you ordered), and so on. The result looks like this:

It looks terrific, doesn’t it? They offer their desserts in two sizes: half size for $5.50 (that is what is pictured above) and full size for $7.50. You can get a variety of flavors, all hand made in front of your eyes. Rolled Up Creamery is a small place (maximum occupancy: 12) and creating their signature dishes takes time. However, the process is fun to watch, and the result looks delicious. This place is definitely worth checking out, and appears to be worth the wait, if there is one. When I last checked Rolled Up Creamery was open from noon to 8 or 9 p.m., but their aim is to be open until 10 p.m., at least on Friday and Saturday night.

Getting away from restaurants, I couple of other quick updates. First off, the tower crane for the under-construction 1409 El Camino Real apartment building was put up this week. I watched a bit of the process, which involves using a smaller (but still quite large!) crane to build the tower. This white crane is just the one they used to erect the tower:

The tower crane itself is huge, which makes sense given that the building under construction will be eight stories tall and will occupy the majority of an entire city block. On Friday I took this picture of the finished product from over on Veterans Boulevard. Given how far away I was when I took this picture, this crane is clearly going to “tower” over Redwood City for the next year or so…

After taking the above picture I headed down Veterans Boulevard and noticed that construction fencing has gone up around the county parking lot at the corner of Veterans Boulevard and Middlefield Road:

The county is in the beginning stages of a construction project to build a very large parking garage on the site of what today is a surface lot. This new garage will sit next to, but not replace, the existing garage. But this new garage will look quite different. If the renderings that the county is displaying on the project website are at all accurate, this garage, unlike the existing garage next door, is really going to stand out:

But its stand-out design is intentional; the county wants this building to “serve as a gateway into the Government Center creating a sense of arrival.”

Note that the county garage project is entirely separate from the project to build a new county office building on the block bounded by Marshall Street, Middlefield Road, Bradford Street, and Hamilton Street. The recent move of the Lathrop House, which previously stood on this block, was in service of this “COB3” project. Just before the Lathrop House was moved, construction fencing went up around the entire block.

The county hoped to begin demolition of the remaining buildings on this block this month (in May). This will include the old bank building you can see above, the small building that sits next to it on Marshall Street, and the small Traffic and Small Claims Court building that is located on the diagonally opposite corner of the block.

Lastly, I received an update this week from the folks behind the Magical Bridge playground, which is under active construction in Red Morton Park. The contractors are pouring some really large concrete walls for this thing; it should be something to behold when done:

The update on our particular playground read as follows:

Yes, we’ve had inclement weather delays, including unhealthy air quality from the fires and 86 days of rain. We are so grateful that the sun is finally shining! If you drive by Red Morton Park you will see the trucks and construction crews out there building and working hard.  We hope to open Magical Bridge Redwood City by December 2019.

So, they’re a couple of months behind, but nothing too terrible. I should note that fundraising for this project appears to have been successful, although they continue to welcome contributions. According to their update, future contributions will go towards community programming and events.

I was also extremely pleased to see that the Magical Bridge Foundation will be breaking ground on two additional playgrounds this fall, one in Sunnyvale and one in Morgan Hill. And they are raising funds for a fourth playground (ours is the second; the first can be found in Palo Alto) in Mountain View. But of course my focus is on the one being built along Valota Road in Red Morton Park; I can’t wait for it to open. Want to know more? Check out their website, or watch this TED talk given last month by Magical Bridge Foundation co-founder Jill Asher.

6 thoughts on “Taking a Peek

  1. Hi Greg,

    I just looked up Chick File A on my phone to see if they were open today and Yelp is saying one is going in on Main Street where Farm Hill Catering used to be. Can you find out and report back? This is by Harry’s.

    Thanks!

  2. A Bank…that would be disappointing…though I suppose if it was one of the nearby branches relocating such as Chase or Wells Fargo and thus opening up their current spots for redevelopment I guess I could get on-board. I wish the county would release some updated renderings of the new county building…its been a while they must have something beside these initial conceptual sketches. They hired a very fancy architect so I’ve been looking forward to what they come up with.

  3. I gotta say I’m getting a big dose of construction fatigue in RWC. Construction and roadwork everywhere. I’m really not convinced replacing the city hall or library lots with parks is a good use of space. So little parking around now.

    • Well, you’re certainly not alone in that; I hear it a lot. Personally I’ll just be happy to be able to drive up and down El Camino without having to change lanes to avoid construction activity, but is appears that we will still be doing that for some time yet.

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