Image: BART plaza
BART hopes to create a more inviting, safe plaza both day and night. Note the walkable clear skylight over the station below. Image: BART plaza

More than 100 people attended an open house Monday to assess the latest proposal for significant updates to the downtown Berkeley BART plaza.

A light-filled rotunda, more trees and open space, new bus shelters and an opened-up pedestrian area were among the suggestions presented in the 35%, preliminary, design plans on display at the Brower Center on Monday afternoon.

BART has proposed removing the brick planters and benches and replacing much of the brick with concrete and permeable pavement. That would increase pedestrian space by 3,500 square feet.

The $11.2 million project could come before council in the next few months, with plans for construction from September 2015 to February 2017.

An “art wall” is proposed on the southern end of the plaza to display anything from pictures to public health information. Image: BART

Project director Tian Feng told open house attendees that the goal is to transform the “dilapidated plaza to a dignified gateway” for Berkeley, to create a “lobby for downtown.”

He described the designs as “modern and clean, not flashy,” and said the project team aimed for “more harmony” between the plaza and its surroundings. He said the team hoped to create a calming environment that promotes a sense of “timelessness.”

Perhaps the most visible change would be to the main BART entrance, which would become mostly transparent, and include a walkable skylight over the station below.

A “multimedia wall” on one end of the plaza could display art or a variety of other information via an LED display.

Proposed project elements include new BART entrances, a leasable pavilion, room for art and more. (Click to view larger.) Image: BART

Mayor Tom Bates said Monday’s presentation was “a major improvement” over designs presented at an open house in January. He said he liked the approach to the main entrance, including the walkable glass element. He said the southern BART entrance, too, appeared more inviting.

Councilman Laurie Capitelli said he, too, was excited to see the new designs.

“I love the simplicity, I love the openness,” he said Monday.

Berkeley transportation manager Farid Javandel (center) discusses BART’s plans with members of the public who attended Monday’s open house. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Berkeley architect David Snippen said he still has many questions about exactly how the project will work. He wondered about where tables and chairs shown in concept designs would be stored, and how light and sound elements, and various sustainability features, would actually function. He also noted reservations about the main entrance.

“It’s not a signature design that would make people say, ‘Wow, that’s Berkeley,'” he said. “I’m not convinced. It needs a lot more creative attention to the design. But it’s moving in the right direction.”

Downtown Berkeley Association leader John Caner said he, too, saw the designs as “a good start,” but added that there’s still a lot to figure out.

He said he wasn’t sure about the use of concrete on the plaza, or how well the glass area — which pedestrians could walk on — would hold up over time.

BART and the city of Berkeley plan to overall the downtown Berkeley plaza. Photo: Emilie Raguso

He said he would also like to see an entrance to the station that is “more inspirational.” He said he is concerned about how the art wall might work in relation to a proposed cafe space currently suggested south of the wall and, therefore, cut off from the main plaza area.

Caner said the Downtown Berkeley Association is hoping to get a more permanent “welcome kiosk” space included in the designs, and wants more detail about the proposed “path of travel,” given the nearby retail and proposed outdoor seating.

“It’s not a bad first start, but there’s a lot that still needs to be done,” he said.

Monday evening, the plaza itself was relatively empty, with a handful of people — some of whom appeared to be homeless — sitting on the benches or walking through the area.

Berkeley resident Michael Ray sat on a brick planter eating ice cream with his two children. He said he could imagine more trees and people-friendly elements on site.

“There are a lot of awkward spaces, feng shui issues,” he said. “I think they could do better. But it’s a nice enough place for us to sit today.”

See the project website here via BART. See a presentation from Monday’s event here.

Berkeley BART plaza workshop comes Monday (01.30.14)
Downtown Berkeley BART plaza slated for major overhaul (11.26.13)
Berkeley set for $12.7m in downtown transport grants (05.28.13)
Berkeley council approves plans to green downtown (01.30.13)
Berkeley’s downtown BART is all roses as part of clean-up (07.17.12)
BART plaza to become an inviting spot (08.04.10)

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Emilie Raguso (senior editor, news) joined the Berkeleyside team in 2012. She covers politics, public safety and development. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...