The Key to Safe Streets: Five Cities Humanizing Street Design

Master Planning Case Study: Cesar Chavez Plaza Park

Dec 31, 2008
Dec 14, 2017

Sacramento, California

Cesar Chavez Plaza Park: Case Description

Cesar Chavez Plaza Park is a one square block park in the central downtown of Sacramento, California. In 1990, the city made several physical improvements to the park after a series of park funding agreements between city agencies and a study by Project for Public Spaces (PPS). Leasing problems experienced by a new office tower adjacent to the park led the managing partner to approach the city with a desire to participate in the redevelopment of Plaza Park. The managing partner hired a firm to design a conceptual master plan and offered to contribute matching funds towards the first phase of construction and activity programming.

In 1991, the city held public meetings about plans for the park and PPS was hired to review and comment on the master plan. The development of a cafe/ restroom structure with outdoor seating and lighting improvements were identified as priorities, while other parts of the proposed plan were rejected. In 1992, the existing park restroom facility was renovated into a cafe and arrangements were made with a downtown non-profit corporation to create and manage park programs and activities, including concessions. In 1998, money provided as part of a new office development has spurred a new planning process for other portions of the park.

Cesar Chavez Plaza Park: Step By Step Master Planning Process

  1. In April 1985, the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency (SHRA) provided $213,000 in funding for planning and improvements to Plaza Park as part of a set of Starter Redevelopment Projects within the boundaries of a Redevelopment Project Area that was funded through tax allocation bonds.
  2. In January 1987, the City Council authorized a funding agreement between the Department of Parks and Community Services and SHRA to establish the "Park Plaza Improvement Fund" in the amount of $213,000.
  3. In May 1989, Project for Public Spaces (PPS) was hired to make recommendations on the redesign of Plaza Park and on improving the use of the park. Several physical improvements including those recommended by PPS were completed in 1990 including: landscape enhancements; restroom and irrigation improvements; and tree trimming and pruning of shrubbery.
  4. Further recommendations made by PPS were implemented in 1991. These include: the establishment of a public /private steering committee to manage the activities of the park and make recommendations on future redesign; the expansion of recreational/cultural activities; and the provision of portable food services. The remaining balance in the Plaza Park Improvement Fund was $50,000.
  5. In the Summer of 1990, Grosvenor International, managing general partner for Plaza Park Tower, a newly built office building on one side of the park, expressed a desire to participate in the redevelopment of Plaza Park as they were having problems leasing space due to fears about the park. Grosvenor retained Haag Landscape Architects to design a conceptual master plan for Plaza park incorporating input received in past public meetings from a variety of interested public/private groups. Elements of Haag's design included a stepped amphitheater with a performing arts stage; a new cafe/restroom structure with outdoor seating; new pavers and landscaping; decorative lighting; a sculpture court; and an extensive reworking of the fountain to include a water curtain. Based on this conceptual plan and similar urban parks around the country, preliminary cost estimates to implement the master plan were $3-6 million. Since no sources for public funding were identified beyond the $50,000 remaining balance in the Plaza Park Improvement Fund, Grosvenor offered to contribute matching funds towards first phase construction and activity programming in an effort to make some immediate and positive changes in Plaza Park.
  6. With the conceptual master plan and a potential private funding source, the Department of Parks and Community Services was given authorization by the City Council in February 1991 to begin the public master plan process, using Haag's conceptual master plan design as a model.
  7. In October 1991, an initial public hearing was held in which development of a cafe/ restroom structure with outdoor seating and lighting improvements were identified as priority elements should a phased funding approach be necessary. Department staff determined that design revisions and subsequent public hearings would be necessary due to strong concerns voiced about the need for an amphitheater and several of the other proposed master plan elements. While concern was voiced in regards to these components of the conceptual master plan, strong support was given for continuing with the planning of the cafe and lighting components.
  8. In October 1991, Project for Public Spaces (PPS) was retained to review and comment on the conceptual master plan as a way to address both public concern and changes in and around the park since their initial visit in May 1989. In addition, PPS met with the following individuals to discuss the goals for the park and its design, programming and management:
  9. Following their visit, PPS submitted a report that addressed a variety of physical and programmatic recommendations including: improvements to the existing restroom building; lighting; expanded activities; landscaping; management; and financing.
  10. Based on PPS's report and public input, the Department of Parks and Community Services recommended that the City Council, by resolution approve:
  11. In 1992, the City Council approved the recommendations and Grosvenor, the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, and the City of Sacramento subsequently renovated the existing restroom facility into a cafe. The city then turned the management of the park over to the downtown Partnership, a non-profit corporation to create and manage park programs and activities, including concessions.
  12. Revenues and/or lease payments from the cafe (the city gets a percentage of the gross sale receipts if they reach a certain amount) go directly into the Downtown Partnership where the money is used for basic enhancements and to bring events into Plaza Park. The cafe generates about $12,000 per year for the partnership. The partnership also runs a Friday night concert series in the park that highlights Sacramento area musicians. Despite the high costs of putting on a concert, the program makes money, due mostly to the ability of the partnership to sell beer and wine at the event. The concert series, now in its seventh year, can bring in as much as $40,000 a year, and attracts thousands of residents to the park every week.
  13. Additionally, the Downtown Partnership brought hot food vendors and bakeries into the burgeoning weekly farmer's market. The group receives fees from these new vendors, but doesn't require the farmers to pay, beyond their city-negotiated license agreement. This concession makes about $13,000 per year for the partnership.
  14. The partnership also keeps the adjacent commercial district clean and patrolled and provides retail recruitment and marketing services through an assessment on local businesses which amounts to slightly under $2 million per year. However, none of this money goes into park programs. Concessions (beer and wine at the weekly concert series) are the single largest source of revenue in Plaza Park for the Downtown Partnership outside of the assessment.
  15. The cafe in Plaza Park, known as Cafe Soleil, is the highest revenue-generator per square foot in Sacramento. It is a simple equation: the cafe serves fresh salads and sandwiches to the many downtown employees who now frequent the park at lunchtime in pleasant weather. Crowds fill the park on the day of the farmer's market, which generates income without putting further burden on the farmers. Other activities, funded by the income generated by concessions, include special events, such as children's festivals. The Partnership uses local musicians for the concert series, which draws 3,000-7,000 people every week and earns enough revenue to pay for other activities and services. One of these services includes reseeding the lawn after concert goers have trampled it.
  16. The partnership wanted to create a restaurant or cafe in the park to serve as a "destination" for the many people working in the area, and to act as a security presence. The city conducted a lengthy search for, and found, the right concession manager: a restaurateur who had a great deal of experience running similar concessions, enough financial stability to weather the initial start up, and an understanding of the client base it was serving.
  17. Plaza Park is now a hub of city life, without a dramatic inflow of new city funds. The public/private partnership, given full authority over park programs, has concentrated on creating a pleasant environment and interesting public programs while providing park concessions that meet user's needs and contribute to the partnership's ability to plan and execute programs.
  18. In early 1998, one million dollars has been obtained for plaza enhancements aimed at users as part of a new 16 floor office development adjacent to the park by the California State Environmental Protection Agency.
  19. A committee was formed to oversee the design and hiring of a consultant to run three public workshops between September and December 1998 as part of the process to develop a planning approach to the plaza.
The Plaza Park Steering Committee (composed of representatives from Councilperson's Fargo's Office, Library, Parks and Community Services, and Police Departments, SHRA, Downtown District, Downtown Plaza Associates, Sacramento Downtown Business Association, Plaza Park Tower, and a citizen representative); Councilpersons Fargo and Mueller; Parks and Community Services; Planning and SHRA senior management staff; Grosvenor; and Haag Landscape Architects.
To accept a gift in the amount of $250,000 from Grosvenor International and Lundberg International in the form of construction of improvements and program funds for Plaza park; Authorize the City manager to enter into an agreement with Grosvenor International to construct a cafe/ restroom building and install lighting improvements in Plaza Park; and Authorize the Department of Parks and Community Services to develop and agreement with the Sacramento Downtown District to promote and manage programming in Plaza Park.Photographs courtesy of the Downtown Partnership.
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