A structure in construction at 24th and Mission Street BART. Photo Diana K. Arreola

After 12 years of planning and over $4 million spent, the Bay Rapid Transit System (BART) is about to complete renovations to its Southwest Plaza on the corner of 24th and Mission streets.

The remodeling of the plaza that serves as the entry point to the heart of the Mission District will be unveiled as early as the beginning of next year.

“BART is approximately 95 percent complete with construction at the 24th Street/Mission Station,” BART communications officer Luna Salaver said. “We expect the work to be done early January 2014.”

It wasn´t until voters approved Prop K in 2003 and Prop AA in 2010 that the necessary money to complete the project was collected. An initiative to remodel the plaza in 2001 did not succeed due to a lack of funds.

From the money spent, $889,000 came from Prop K and $1.2 million from Prop AA, while the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) provided the remaining amount, $2.1 million.

Workers from the West Bay Builders from the Novato, Calif. based contractor for the project that began in April 2013, said their work consisted mostly of demolition.

“Everything seemed saturated, enclosed,” said one of the workers at the construction site. “We cleared it up. It was really dark, so we added lights and opened up access to the alley.”

Contractors removed the railing that cut access to Osage Alley, adjacent to the plaza.

“We got rid of the fence to open up the alley (Osage),” he said. “We removed the trees, cleared the space out and added more lighting.”

The new design, according to Salaver, will also feature two stage-like areas dedicated to public gatherings, as well as a cylindrical structure lit from the inside. Salaver hopes that the new design will give the plaza an overall “cleaner” feel.

“To (…) create a sense of openness we took out the wrought iron fencing in many locations, removed rockscape planters and replaced missing pavers,” Salaver said. “The plaza now has a more open feeling with enhanced lighting, a performance area and access to Osage alley.”

The remodeled plaza does not include any benches. Salaver explained how the idea behind the new design is to encourage people to keep moving and mentions the fact that the plaza never had any benches.

“There were ledges and planters that people sat upon, but never benches,” she said. “Working with the community BART learned that getting rid of the clutter, modernizing the site, and adding more light is what people wanted.”

Once the construction barricades are removed in early January, what remains is the installation of artwork that will decorate the remodeled plaza. That task means finding artists to produce the work, which was surrounded with controversy earlier in the year.

After hosting a public call for art proposals, BART and the San Francisco’s Urban Planning Commission announced in fall 2012 their selection of two artists from Los Angeles and another from Marin County to do the artistic work on the plaza.

The proposal, which was supposed to “reflect the Mission community” according to the project’s guidelines, did not include the hiring of local artists. As a result, an ad-hoc group called Calle 24 Art for BART was created to demand the inclusion of local artists.

While the official response from BART at the time was that “the Mission is changing and it has to reflect that,” Calle 24 Art for BART opposed what they deemed “burning man-style art,” according to Brooke Oliver, a member of the group. The group held several community meetings during the first half of 2013, presenting an alternate proposal to the transportation agency last May.

“We completed our process and submitted our proposal,” said Erick Arguello, president of the Lower 24th Street Merchants
and Neighbors Association, part of Calle 24 Art for BART. “We pushed them really hard. Let’s cross our fingers, but it should be
a fresh canvas for us in the community.”

When inquired about the artwork for the plaza, Salaver said that “ART staff is working on a process to develop a district-wide art policy.”

A new member of the agency, Shirley Ng, has the task of creating the policy. “She was recently assigned and she is new to the task. We expect the policy will be developed at some point in 2014,” Salaver added.

One of the first art ideas for the plaza proposed back in 2001 included a mosaic depicting the snake of Quetzalcoatl, a symbol of Mesoamerican culture, around the circular opening that goes down to the underground station. Calle 24 Art for BART revived this concept, proposed by Precita Eyes Mural Center, back in May during the development of the proposal. It remains to be seen whether it will be included or not.