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How Outdoor Civic Venues Are Being Adapted for Events

Forward-thinking cities are building event-friendly amenities into outdoor space at public venues.

By Harriet Edleson June 15, 2015, 7:15 AM EDT

Qualcomm Dome Terrace in San Diego

Photo: Natalia Robert/Full Circle Images

When the Goldhirsh Foundation hosted a reception for its grant winners in October, it brought more than 200 guests to Performance Lawn at the 12-acre Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles.

Magenta furniture and round cocktail tables dotted the lawn, and as guests checked in they received wristbands and tickets for food trucks parked in the adjacent Olive Court. “They could have had the event anywhere,” says Lucas Rivera, director of Grand Park for the Los Angeles Music Center, which oversaw a recent $56 million renovation of the park. “They chose our space because of its location with a beautiful view of iconic City Hall.”

Like other outdoor civic venues, Grand Park’s location—with its backdrop—helps it attract events. To compete with the private sector for event business, though, a view alone isn’t enough. That’s why newly renovated and planned outdoor civic venues across the country are incorporating event-friendly amenities such as the latest audiovisual technology, catering prep space, and safety and security features, as well as focusing on basics such as a smooth layout and attractive landscaping.

The setting at Dilworth Park in Philadelphia was upgraded with a $55 million renovation in September 2014. The space was designed with public and private gatherings in mind and holds 4,000 people for festival-style events. Located next to Philadelphia City Hall, the park incorporates new lighting, audiovisual projection, a sound system, and a fountain that can be programmed. Other features include security cameras, pedestrian lighting, and free Wi-Fi throughout the park.

“The goal was to transform it into a beautiful space,” says Sarah Anello, venue sales specialist for Center City District/Central Philadelphia Development Corporation. “It was multilevel before and difficult to navigate.” Now, there are permanent granite benches and colorful metal furniture in yellow, blue, pink, and green. Trees and buildings provide adequate shade. “It’s clean, well-maintained, and safe.”

Location will make Washington’s planned 11th Street Bridge Park—projected to open in the summer of 2018—distinctive. “It’s the only space in Washington, D.C., where you can have an event over the river,” says Scott Kratz, director of the 11th Street Bridge Park, a project of Building Bridges Across the River at TheArc. 

The elevated park is being developed on top of  the pylons of the old bridge, which was removed and replaced with three new bridges. A design competition for the new park drew 81 submissions, and officials chose the landscape architecture firm of OMA and Olin Design. The park will contain a performance space, an environmental education center, and an interactive play space, as well a offer kayaking in the Anacostia River, and urban agriculture, Kratz says.

The long, narrow three-acre park will be 1,100 feet long and 160 feet wide, the equivalent of three football fields. Kratz says the center of the park will have a large open space suitable for tenting. Guests will have views of the U.S. Capitol, the Washington Monument, National Park, planes taking off and landing at Ronald Reagan National Airport, and the famous fireworks on the Fourth of July. “We want to make sure this is a real icon for the nation’s capital,” Kratz says.

Guests at the San Diego Library’s Qualcomm Dome Terrace can gaze out at San Diego Bay and the mountains from the 900-square-foot space that fits neatly under the distinctive 140-foot diameter steel dome, the library’s signature feature. 

“In addition to the spectacular view, it’s such a unique space being right under the dome,” says Marion Moss Hubbard, senior public information officer for the San Diego Library, which opened the new building in September 2013. Located on the library’s ninth floor, the terrace holds 129 people for events and has behind-the-scenes amenities such as a prep kitchen accessible by elevator. “It’s a controllable area,” good for mixing and mingling, Hubbard says. “It’s easy to keep the group all together.”

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