Open house showcases new Downtown Berkeley BART plaza designs

Carlos Caceres/Staff

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The team leading the project to overhaul the Downtown Berkeley BART plaza held an open house Monday night, encouraging the public to review plans and provide feedback on conceptual designs that could affect nearly 30,000 commuters.

Held on the third floor of the Berkeley Public Library’s Downtown Berkeley branch, the public event showcased the overall design principles, aimed at improving conditions for the daily congregation of BART and AC Transit commuters, cyclists and pedestrians at the plaza. Several people of interest, including city officials, designers and architects, were present to engage directly with members of the Berkeley community.

“The area currently meets a lot of needs, but I think we can do it better,” said Berkeley’s principal transportation planner, Matt Nichols. “We’re getting the public’s input to see how to meet our goals.”

The area targeted for renovation serves 24,000 BART station entries and exits daily, including more than 6,000 AC Transit riders in the area each day, according to the project application submitted by BART and city officials in 2013. The Alameda County Transportation Commission will fund, in part, the estimated $10.45 million cost of the construction phase.

A rendering of what the Downtown Berkeley BART Plaza could look like in the future. (BART / Courtesy)

A rendering of what the Downtown Berkeley BART Plaza could look like in the future. (BART / Courtesy)

The design proposal was parsed in detailed layouts around the room, highlighting the retail flexibility of the plaza and the intermodal changes aimed at refining connections between the BART, bus and pedestrian experiences. Revamped structures, such as a new staircase between existing escalators and a modernized bus-stop canopy, presented cost-effective and durable building materials. The schematics, renderings and reference images showcased were all conceptual designs.

Urban designer and architect Phil Erickson said the goal of the project is to “make a more comfortable space, given the variety of people Downtown.”

While individuals shared their praise with team members for the security and pedestrian-safety improvements, some concerns were raised about the desire to retain the rotunda that covers the Downtown Berkeley BART station entrance, according to Claudia Ulloa with FMG Architects. Along the same lines, she said the biggest challenge is finding the best design for the area that will mesh the old architecture with the new.

“Some people like the rotunda because they feel it has historic value,” Ulloa said. “We are working to keep (the design) timeless — not just modern for the sake of being modern.”

Detailed designs of the new plaza are scheduled to be completed by December, with construction beginning in August 2015 and reaching completion by February 2017, according to the grant application. The next open house is scheduled for March or April.

“Most people want to see these changes,” Ulloa said. “They really like the openness and transparency.”

Jeff Landa covers city news. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JeffLanda.