Creating the plaza plan |

Creating the plaza plan

Laura Cianci

Designing a pedestrian plaza to cover the downtown train trench presented designers with many challenges.

Among the challenges: meeting the needs of the community with an aesthetically pleasing project that’s within the City Council’s budget.

“Coming up with a concept that incorporates the interests of all the stakeholders, it was work,” said Ron Dukeshier, project manager for Granite Construction, the company doing the project. “We had gobs of meetings and listened to what they said. Everybody had a lot of good ideas and some not so good.”

The projected cost of the plaza, which includes narrowing Virginia Street at the plaza site from two lanes in each direction to one lane in each direction with a turn lane, is estimated to be $16 million. The proposed plaza is two blocks long and runs over the train trench between North Virginia Street and West Street.

The City Council is expected to review the plan on Wednesday. If it’s approved, Dukeshier said, work will start almost immediately.

A key challenge Dukeshier and others involved in the project had to address was developing a concept that would provide a gathering place with areas to hold special events, permanent vendors and seating within the range of money the city was willing to spend.

Gene Webber, landscape architecture manager for Places Consulting Services Inc. of Sparks, concurred. The company’s landscape architecture group came up with the plaza design in collaboration with Hawkins & Associates Inc., a Reno architecture firm.

“We feel it is a huge opportunity for the city, taking the trench and making it a focal point so that it becomes like Reno’s front porch. It is a very large focal point right in the middle of the city,” Webber said.

The planning process was very complex, Webber said, because it not only required consideration of pedestrian safety and the limitations created by the corridor itself, but also careful consideration of the businesses adjacent to the proposed plaza.

“We’re in their front yard so to speak,” he said, explaining that a few of the businesses own property that the plan incorporates into the plaza design.

“We have worked with them to come up with a common understanding that their space can become available and be part of the overall design while they still retain use of it. We have details still to work out, but we feel we have had outstanding success to this point.”

To arrive at the proposed design, Webber said several other issues also had to be considered.

“We had a list of things that needed to happen to develop both blocks of the plaza,” he said.

Among the first to be tackled was how to incorporate large ventilation fans into the lid proposed for the corridor. The fans are required to remove smoke and gases in the tunnel in the case of fire.

“The minimum size of the fan towers is approximately eight feet square and 10 or more feet tall tall enough so that people can’t throw things into them easily,” he said.

The group decided to use the towers as a structural device to support a trellis. Then it covered them with a colored steel skin and put soft light elements at the top and ground level of each one.

“The fan structures could just be seen as machinery, but we took them from being a mechanical installation to something visually very appealing,” Webber said, “Now they are a sculptural element instead of a mechanical element, and double as support for the trellis.”

The architects also had to create successful drainage from the surface of the plaza, which is essentially a concrete slab covering the trench, and make it an attractive, inviting and comfortable pedestrian area.

Once the drainage problem was conquered, Webber said designers added modular paving stones, grass, planter beds, and seat walls.

“Finding a way to take the openness and associated heat in an open concrete area was a major challenge,” he said, noting the railroad would not permit any water on the concrete slab for safety reasons.

“The trellis allowed us to bring a comfortable, shady ambience to the deck. A strong colonnade of trees on each edge provides shade, creates a sense of space and adds seasonal interest.”

Still to be worked out is where to position the benches and sculptures now situated at the bridge abutments along the trench.

“We are working with public art along the perimeter of the trench and need to incorporate it into the design of the plaza. We are working with the artists to come up with a satisfactory relocation that suits his original intent and also compliments the design of the plaza itself,” Webber said.


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