Council Approves ArtCenter Master Plan But Asks For More Study on 'Digital Gallery'

Neighborhood leaders voice concerns regarding proposed 8,000 square-foot sign for building’s northeast corner

Published : Tuesday, July 17, 2018 | 4:42 AM

Asking for further study on a controversial proposed digital gallery, the Pasadena City Council Monday voted in favor of a series of eight recommendations needed to move the ArtCenter’s new south campus Master Plan forward.

The plan for the new South Campus covers buildings along South Raymond Avenue above West Glenarm Street and at 1111 South Arroyo Parkway. It has been in the works since 2014 and was first unveiled to the public last winter.

The City Council will hold further meetings focused on a planned 8,000 square-foot digital billboard included as part of the new South Campus design.

Some neighborhood groups oppose the billboard, saying it will distract drivers and is unsafe and that it will create nighttime “light pollution” affecting local residential areas.

A number of local neighborhood leaders spoke on the issue, most with the same message—Yes to the master plan, No to the digital gallery.

An ArtCenter spokesman said the school is committed to resolving the objections. He quoted ArtCenter President Lorne Buchman as saying “If the digital gallery isn’t safe, we won’t move forward with it. Further, we will unequivocally adhere to any safety measures recommended by Pasadena’s Department of Transportation, Caltrans and Los Angeles Metro. This includes any light pollution concerns.”

Buchman explained “the electronic billboard wrapped around the corner of the building facing East Glenarm Avenue and the Arroyo Parkway is envisioned to show images, video, and animation advertising Art Center programs.”

He said that ArtCenter is “willing to adhere to select guidelines in curating the digital gallery,” and to include still images that rotate no more than once every 10 minutes with no video or animation.

“Further,” said Buchman, “We plan to display student artwork, not mainstream advertising for the College or any commercial advertising whatsoever.”

ArtCenter officials had coincidentally planned to ask the Council to approve the plan without the digital gallery as a component, prior to a motion by Councilmember Steve Madison to do just that.

“We’re asking for a text amendment,” said Buchman Monday before the meeting, “that will allow us more time to work with City officials, residents and neighborhood associations to decide together if the digital gallery can be developed thoughtfully given Pasadena’s reputation as a hub of art, culture and innovation.”

“We’re not creating Vegas here,” added Buchman.

“This will be a Renaissance-era Italian piazza,” Associated Student Body President Johnny Perez, told the Council. “It will make the community an active part of the campus.”

Local neighborhood spokespersons seemed unmoved by Buchman’s statements.

“The digital gallery doesn’t emulate Pasadena. It doesn’t express Pasadena,” said West Pasadena Residents Association Vice President Avram Gold, who nevertheless spoke highly of the school itself as well as the master plan.

Erica Foy of the Madison Heights Neighborhood Association, told the Council, “We have always been proud of our ‘small town’ feel. There is nothing ‘small town’ about this huge billboard that looks like a Las Vegas sign.”

Fellow Association member Susie Boyer agreed, saying, “This would be a significant distraction to the neighborhood.”

The Council concurred that the master plan would be a tremendous addition to the City, digital gallery notwithstanding.

“It’s a beautiful plan, and this will be a tremendous addition to the City,” said Councilmember Margaret McAustin, “and if anyone can design a digital gallery that would work in this city, ArtCenter can. But I can’t support it for now. Let’s take it off the table for now.”

McAustin also suggested that ArtCenter staff consider placing the digital gallery inside a building on campus.

Added Councilmember Gene Masuda, agreeing with McAustin, “I support this master plan, but the digital gallery is a slippery slope.”

The dramatic new design of the South Campus would include two new buildings dedicated to student housing — one at 988 South Raymond Avenue on the 1111 South Arroyo Parkway parcel, just north of the “new” 1111 Building.

The design for the 1111 Building would include extensive interior renovation, the possible construction of the digital gallery display on the southeastern-facing front of the building, and a 30-foot high pedestrian bridge connecting the new student housing building and the existing 1111 Building over the Metro Gold Line, until the completion of the Main Quad.

A large, publicly-accessible open space main quad area would be constructed over the Metro Gold Line to connect the 988, 1111, and 1101 Buildings.

The proposed student housing and parking building would be approximately 150,000 square feet in size and rise up to eight stories (100 feet) in height, with six levels of housing over a two-story podium with ground-floor amenities. The six levels of housing would consist of approximately 150 units.

The lower-floor amenities may also include a art store, cafeteria, student gallery, coffee shop, retail/cafe, gym, studio space, storage, and bike parking and rental, according to a Planning Department staff report.

A stepped terrace, to be connected to the Main Quad, is also tentatively planned as part of the 988 Building improvements.

Phase II construction of the South Campus would include construction of the 888 Building, for either academic use, or a combination of academic and student housing. Either plan would include parking, along with multi-purpose space.

Phase II would also create a North Quad, and would extend a “cycleway” north to link all buildings west of the Metro Gold Line along South Raymond Avenue.

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