A makeover for De la Guerra Plaza next to Santa Barbara’s City Hall is not a new idea, but planners are considering it for a different reason this time: to provide a new spot for the popular Saturday farmers market.
The Cota Street parking lot, where residents buy their produce now, is one of the top two sites being considered for the new Santa Barbara police station.
De la Guerra Plaza, on De la Guerra Street between State and Anacapa streets, has street parking and a lawn now, and hosts the annual Old Spanish Days Mercado De la Guerra. It is also a popular community gathering place as well as a meeting spot for rallies and political marches.
City planner Brad Hess, who is working on the police station project, told the Parks & Recreation Commission this week that the idea is to raise the ground level of the plaza so it’s all at curb level.
Planners want public input on design elements for the plaza and what it could be used for, and the city plans to hold a workshop at 2 p.m. March 9 at Casa De la Guerra, 15 E. De la Guerra St., across the street from the space.
“We just can’t wait to see how Santa Barbara responds, because this is the center of our town and has been since 1853; we just need to recognize it again,” Hess said.
The commission designated two members to serve on a project-specific subcommittee.
The plaza has not been changed much since the 1920s, although there have been many proposals for design improvements, including a water fountain, a band stand and statues, according to the city.
“The plaza functioned as an open public space from 1855 to 1874, when Santa Barbara’s first City Hall was constructed in the middle of the plaza,” a city staff report stated. “The plaza reopened in 1924 after the removal of the old City Hall and the construction of the current City Hall located on the northeastern corner of the plaza.”
The Downtown Santa Barbara organization of the 1960s proposed closing down the street next to the plaza to create a pedestrian walkway, and more plans came forward in the 1990s but never went anywhere, according to the city.
In the early 2000s, more revitalization plans were created with plans to fund them through the Redevelopment Agency. When it dissolved, so did the plans.
The city’s goal of public outreach is to get ideas on uses for the plaza and specific design elements.
Renovation plans could “bring De la Guerra Plaza back to its prominence as a public square and central focus of the downtown area,” a city staff report stated.
“Connections to State Street via Storke Placita, the City Hall parking lot and De la Guerra Street would be part of the scope to revitalize the area. The plaza project will require vision, forward thinking and attention to detail, along with consideration of historic resources and existing uses.”