Crocker Museum unveils ambitious plans to revamp park into new front portal

Aerial views of the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento on Tuesday, September 14, 2010.
Aerial views of the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento on Tuesday, September 14, 2010. RBenton@sacbee.com

Crocker Art Museum opened a $100 million expansion six years ago to rave reviews, turning the cramped gallery into an architecturally striking art showcase. But the museum’s ambitions didn’t end there.

Museum officials this week revealed initial plans for a major remake of adjacent Crocker Park. It would turn the tired and lightly used 2.5-acre space into a multi-use front door for the museum.

The remake – with a price pegged at about $30 million – is envisioned to have an indoor-outdoor event center, a sculpture garden, an elevated area for views of the river and city, a children’s play area, a performance area, water features, and walkways that stretch a block and a half north to Capitol Mall near Third Street.

Museum Director Lial Jones said the plan represents the next logical step from the museum’s 2010 expansion and would solve one of the facility’s biggest ongoing problems: lack of parking.

Conceptual drawings by !melk, a New York-based architecture firm, show hidden underground and ground-level parking. Currently, visitors often struggle to find parking in the area and must feed city meters that limit their visit to two hours.

Jones said museum officials want to create “a great civic space” that will expand the experience for museum visitors, but also serve the tens of thousands of new residents expected in downtown and the West Sacramento waterfront in the next decade-plus.

“It’s a terrific project; it’s finishing what we started,” Jones said. “We’re excited.”

Jones said museum officials would like to move quickly. “A three-year project is ambitious,” she said. “Five years is maybe a little more realistic.”

The park redo will require a massive fundraising effort, similar to the one required to build the 125,000-square-foot wing and courtyard next to the museum’s original structure, the 1872 Victorian Italianate building commissioned by Judge Edwin B. Crocker.

Jones said the park renovation and expansion cost will not be known for some time. The museum is about six months away from initial design plans. But she said it could be in the $30 million range.

Museum officials intend to couple the expansion effort with fundraising to feed the museum’s endowment, which sits at $14 million, too low to fund a museum of this size, Jones said. Her board’s goal, she said, is to increase the endowment by $25 million to $50 million. Fundraising will likely take three years.

“We need to secure the museum’s future,” Jones said. “We are an under-resourced institution.”

Crocker Park has already been designated by the city for future use by the museum. Jones said the museum is interested in expanding the footprint if it can acquire a second slice of land, currently a parking lot, that sits between Crocker Park and Interstate 5 to the west.

That parcel is one of two adjacent to Crocker Park that the city of Sacramento is giving to the Sacramento Kings as part of the downtown sports and entertainment arena deal. Kings officials declined comment on their plans for the parcel, but indicated they will be willing to talk to museum officials.

“At this time it’s too early for us to discuss any plans for (the lot) as we focus on opening Golden 1 Center in October,” Kings President Chris Granger wrote in an email. “We’re proud of our investments in Sacramento and always interested in having conversations about making our community a better place.”

The project will include a major public art piece in two parts, one part on the riverbank in Sacramento, the other on the bank in West Sacramento. Shelly Willis of the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission said the piece is part of a larger plan by her commission and the two cities to make downtown and the riverfront areas more inviting for pedestrians by offering a thematic art experience.

Crocker officials are showing early conceptual designs this week to museum members and others to get reactions and solicit ideas. “We want to get more voices to make sure we are thinking as broadly and deeply as possible in coming up with what is best for our community,” Jones said.

An early conceptual diagram by !melk, a New York-based architecture firm, shows Crocker Park with an event area and a play area.

The plans show an event center in the southwest corner of Crocker Park, across O Street from the new wing of the museum, set in a way that allows a clear view to the museum from Capitol Mall. Some plans show it in Crocker Park, others show what it would look like if the museum moved Second Street west to expand the park footprint.

Drawings show the events center tucked under an elevated greensward, with an open glass wall that spills onto a patio. Architects say they are looking at a design that will allow a covering to be pulled outward to expand the usable space.

The elevated area would serve to muffle freeway noise and create a vantage point for people to take in views of the river and cityscape, architects said. It also could allow for a hidden parking structure.

Designers say they are considering narrowing O Street in front of the museum and at times, such as major events, limiting it to pedestrians only.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak

Related stories from Sacramento Bee