Nina Johnson, a high-ranking administrator at City Hall and a de facto social engineer, is hosting two party-like experiments this weekend to see what changes might help re-electrify State Street. To get the Funk Zone’s mojo — and its hordes of visitors — moving into the central business district, they have to get past the pinch point of the freeway underpass, dauntingly dark and infused with the atomized aroma of human urine.
To do this, Johnson and crew will — between 8 p.m. and midnight this Friday — convert the underpass into a sound-and-light garden-installation art piece. More than 10 video artists will be splashing the underpass walls with various light designs; a deejay will provide ambient sounds; one food truck will cater to the gastrointestinal pleasures of those curious enough to check it out. Ironically — given Johnson’s ultimate objective to get people moving through the underpass — traffic will be blocked. City police insisted on this safety precaution. “We want people to come downtown, have dinner, and then check out the underpass,” Johnson said. “We want to see what works.”
The next day — Saturday — motorists are advised to steer clear of the 400 and 500 blocks of State Street, which for one day will be rendered a pedestrian-only haven. Tables will line the middle of State Street for outdoor dining; ping-pong tables will be provided, as will dance classes and chalk for chalk drawing. Johnson said this weekend’s events will give city officials a chance to test what ideas work and which ones don’t. “I think this is great,” said commercial real-estate powerhouse Ray Mahboob. “This gives us a chance to try things out. … It’s only a day.” Councilmember Randy Rowse worried there was not enough staff to redirect motorists and was skeptical about pedestrian-only solutions: “I don’t see why we have to hold Woodstock III in the middle of Easter weekend.”