‘A dignified, energized civic space’: Downtown Berkeley BART station plaza opens with celebratory ceremony

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Karen Chow/Senior Staff

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The renovated Downtown Berkeley BART station plaza opened to the public Thursday with a ceremony that included speeches, ribbon-cutting, music and the unveiling of a 14-foot-tall metal sculpture.

The plaza, which was expected to open in September 2017 and cost about $13 million, according to the BART website, sports a modern glass and steel station entrance as well as new sound and light poles, landscaping and bus shelters.

“(The project) transformed a very tired-looking, old plaza into a dignified, energized civic space that presides in heart of Downtown in this city for many years to come,” said Tian Feng, the project’s director, during his speech at the ceremony.

The plaza was designed to enhance multimodal transit access, improve accessibility for pedestrians and bicyclists, and better accommodate transit users, according to the BART website. Beyond being a BART station entrance, the plaza is meant to be a gathering place for the community and, with the new sound and lighting system, will regularly feature performances.

“We wanted a project that would serve as a major regional transportation hub and create a central gathering plot in our community,” said Mayor Jesse Arreguín in his speech.

At the ceremony, Arreguín cut a ribbon — alongside several City Council members, BART representatives, architects and the CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association — and members of the Berkeley Symphony rode up the escalators, through the new entrance and into the crowd while playing their instruments. Onlookers then rode the escalator down, reached the bottom and rode it back up again — a chance to experience the new design of the station’s main entrance.

Shortly afterward, a 14-foot-tall sculpture created by artist Michael Christian was unveiled. The artwork, a metal globe called “Home,” will be on display for one year. Originally created for the Burning Man festival, the work is meant to represent the interconnectedness of all people around the globe.

Local composer and electronic musician Chris Brown presented an original piece called “Flow in Place” on the plaza’s new sound system, followed by a performance by the Berkeley Symphony. Brown’s piece will run on the sound system for the next two months at scheduled times.

Attendees walked around the new plaza and expressed excitement about the new design and the plans in store for the space.

“It’s wonderful that (the plaza is) open to the public and invigorates the Downtown,” said Berkeley resident Siciliana Trevino Johnston. “We get to see ourselves in a new way.”

The opening festivities are set to continue into the weekend, with multiple performances scheduled until Sunday. Music ranging from the old-school electronica of DJ BroakleyBoiz to the flamenco rumba style of Trio Paz will be performed.

“For the university, a lively, engaging Downtown — all of which is reflected in this project — is inextricably linked to our mission of education, research and service, making the world and our community better,” said former campus architect for UC Berkeley Emily Marthinsen at the event. “A new BART plaza, town square, alive with art and music and events will bring everyone together.”

Contact Katherine Kemp at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @katherinekemp.