By RYOKO NAKAMURA
RAFU JAPANESE STAFF WRITER
“We want an open space at the station site so that people can have events and watch the Nisei Week Parade.” “We are against a public plaza. We need a joint development with two- or three-story retail stores.” “Our table is thinking more like a 10- to 11-story building with a movie theater and bowling alley to attract younger people and newcomers.”
These were a few of the ideas gathered at the Metro’s Urban Design Working Group discussion for the Regional Connector’s new Little Tokyo subway station. With the revised route proposal presented by Metro last month, the workshop was held at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center on Feb. 3.
Along with representatives from Metro and Ted Tokio Tanaka Architects, who will design the station, about 70 residents, business owners, non-profit leaders, and other stakeholders from the Arts District and Little Tokyo gathered. They were divided into eight groups, including two Japanese-speaking groups, to exchange their ideas and desires for the station site utilization.
Most of the groups emphasized the needs for both green space and parking space at the station site. As for the location of the station entrances, many groups agreed to put them (1) near the current Little Tokyo/ Arts District station and Mangrove site; (2) by the Savoy condominium on Alameda and First Street; (3) by the Japanese American National Museum; and (4) near the Japanese Village Plaza — to make it accessible from every direction.
In order to facilitate the flow of pedestrians from the station to both the Arts District and Little Tokyo, several groups suggested placing signage or a business directory in various languages at the station entrances. Additional ideas included a history wall of both the Arts District and Little Tokyo, a graffiti wall using recycled materials, a parking lot for bicycles and food trucks, and an electric car-charging station. One group proposed a kiosk, such as a newsstand and flower stand by the station.
For the station design, most of the groups emphasized “no more stereotypical Japanese types of things.” Several groups suggested a contemporary Tokyo style, and others described something like “Little Tokyo meets and marries the Arts District.”
The most divisive topic was the ground-level utilization above the subway station. While several groups expressed the need for open space for a multi-use plaza, others emphasized that there were already enough plazas in Little Tokyo, and a development, such as a shopping center and retail shops, would be more beneficial.
Whereas all the groups that wanted a development on the site suggested a two- to three-story building, one Japanese-speaking group’s idea was to build a 10- to 11-story-tall building with a movie theater, a bowling alley, and parking spaces. Kenji Suzuki, the owner of Suehiro restaurant, gave the presentation on behalf of the group. He said, “We are trying to bring new people into Little Tokyo. We want to put something that Little Tokyo lacks that we could probably use to attract a lot of younger people.”
Wilbur Takashima, a co-chair of the Little Tokyo Community Council’s transit working group, said, “One thing I suggested — but that I don’t think anybody else wanted to endorse — was just completely vacating Central Avenue between First Street and Second Street and making that area completely pedestrian so that everything ties in together. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I don’t think it’s beyond the scope of MTA’s designers to consider something like that.”
A lot of exciting ideas were gathered at the workshop. One point that everybody agreed on was that this project must tie in not only the immediate areas from the station, but also the entire Arts District and Little Tokyo areas.
Metro is planning more community meetings through March. The final EIS/EIR (environmental impact statement/environmental impact report) is expected to be released this summer. If the project remains on schedule, construction will begin in 2014 and be completed in 2019. For more information, contact: Laura Cornejo, Metro, One Gateway Plaza, MS 99-22-2, Los Angeles CA 90012; [email protected]; www.metro.net/regionalconnector.