New Downtown Berkeley BART Plaza opens to fanfare

The new $13 million Downtown Berkeley BART Plaza opened Thursday with a ribbon cutting, speeches, marching bands and the unveiling of two public art installations, one a sculpture shaped like a globe and the other a sound installation that echoed throughout the plaza.

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín mirrored the thoughts of all the elected officials and BART, city of Berkeley and UC Berkeley staffers present when he expressed hope that the wide, expansive space would become a well-used public commons. About 15,000 people walk on that stretch of Shattuck Avenue every day and another 25,000 come and go on BART, he said.

Downtown Berkeley is already a dynamic and vibrant place to be,” said Arreguín. “This plaza marks a new chapter… This is truly an incredible moment for downtown Berkeley and our city.”

There was nary a mention that completion of the plaza project was more than a year late. (The contractor, USS Cal Builders, has been assessed $3,545 in daily liquidated damages for the delay.) And two of the new BART entrances are missing roofs due to budget constraints. A welcome kiosk, to be staffed by downtown ambassadors, is behind schedule and should open in November, according to John Caner of the Downtown Berkeley Association. Also still to come: a coffee stand run by 1951 Coffee, a farm stand operated by the Ecology Center, outdoor chairs and tables, and the opening of Sliver Pizzeria, which will join other businesses on the block — including Ike’s Sandwiches, Almare Gelato and Paris Baguette — whose owners must be relieved that the disruptive construction work is finally behind them.

The total construction cost was $9.3 million, according to Farid Javandel, transportation manager for Berkeley. The soft costs (planning, environmental, design and construction management) added approximately $3.7 million, which is less than 30% of the total project cost, he said.

But on Thursday evening, neither the delays nor the hiccups were on anyone’s mind. The grand opening drew several hundred people and many lingered for a few hours to chat and listen to the music performed on the plaza’s Berkeley Live stage. Events are planned throughout the weekend to continue the celebration.