Plaza reform ideas aired, more to come

The Parks and Rec Committee at its Dec. 13 meeting. KLH | Union

Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union

ARCATA – Their backs turned to an uncaring sea of empty seats in Council Chamber at City Hall, members of Arcata’s Parks and Rec Committee worked through issues at their Dec. 13 meeting.

Noting the upcoming Plaza-specific City Council meetings – one on Jan. 8 about downtown conditions, and another on Feb. 21 at which the McKinley statue and Jacoby Building plaque will be discussed – the committee focused on ideas for better socializing the Plaza.

As is stated at virtually every Plaza-related meeting, mainstream events are effective at holding riff-raff at bay, minimizing violations and generally civilizing the town square. Thus, committeemembers set about brainstorming wholesome activities that might take place there.

“We have this great space,” observed Julie Neander, deputy director of community services and staff liaison to the committee. “How do we better use it?”

Some 70 special events took place on the Plaza in 2017, but Chair Nancy Starck noted that most occurred on weekends. “During the weekdays we could use more programming,” she said. She suggested more drop-in events, classes, dance and other performances.

Member Jayne McGuire suggested dog obedience classes of the type which have been offered by the Arcata Recreation Division. But Neander noted that non-service dogs are – officially, anyway – banned from the Plaza, so McGuire withdrew the idea. “I forgot that piece,” she said.

McGuire noted that the Plaza gets gnarliest when darkness falls, and suggested that existing night classes be incentivized to relocate to the Plaza.

Member Shane Brotherton suggested a Plaza Movie Night, “like at Crabs Stadium,” referring to the “Friday Night Flicks” held at the Arcata Ball Park last summer. It wouldn’t be the first time. Years ago, movies were shown during a Friday night Arts! Arcata, with the building at Eighth and G streets which houses the “Plaza” store used as a projection screen.

“We can certainly explore the logistics,” Neander said.

Ideas flowed fast and furious, even, as member Steve Martin observed, without use of the customary butcher paper. He suggested a steel drium class.

Brotherton said a “watered-down monthly version” of Pastels on the Plaza might be offered, maybe called “Monthly Murals.” McGuire said a monthly theme might be used, with a supervising artist offering a quick lesson and then turning the participating artists loose on that idea.

Starck wondered what could be done to get senior citizens out on the Plaza. Neander said that the Humboldt Senior Resource Center might be approached as a potential partner in scoping out possibilities. “Do seniors have unmet needs that we could do on the Plaza?” she said.

Another idea was to boost al fresco dining on the Plaza, possibly with one day a week designated for food trucks to assemble there. Still more ideas included some sort of improvisational theatre, though arguably that’s what the committee is trying to replace. Brotherton suggested flash mobs that would flare into being every half hour, but there again, different from the ones already plaguing the Plaza.

Neander said there are any number of community groups whose cooperation might be enlisted in the effort – the Dell’Arte School of Physical Theatre, the Arcata Playhouse, Ink People Center for the Arts and the Sanctuary.

She also cautioned that collaborations will bring liability issues and fees, but also that sponsorships and grants might be solicited to help subsidize some activities.

Still more Plaza brainstorming

While the meeting was free of broad sheets of paper on which to jot the ideas, butcher paper aficionados may see the return of the idea-absorbing rolls next Monday night, Jan. 8 at 6 p.m. at the D Street Neighborhood Center.

That’s when the Arcata City Council will indulge Arcata’s enduring civic hobby and once again hold a study session to discuss the Plaza.

The agenda begins with a “brief history of community Plaza improvements” and then some brainstorming, then “public breakout stations” to prioritize the ideas. This will be followed by public comment.

City Manager Karen Diemer said she has the Parks and Rec Committee’s suggestions, some of which could provide motivating visuals.

“The idea is to go hog wild with pictures that depict all the great ideas that have been generated over the years and not implemented, and see if we can narrow down some priorities,” Diemer said. “This will be a meeting of paper you don’t want to miss.”



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