PITTSBURG -- There was no shortage of ideas this week on how the city might transform a vacant downtown block into a vital plaza for recreation and commerce.

An area for skateboarders, bocce ball courts, a dog park, spacious walkways, a large water fountain or just a grassy spot to congregate were among the myriad suggestions from about 60 residents, local business owners and city officials at an evening brainstorming session Tuesday at the Railroad Book Depot.

"This could really enhance Pittsburg and be a jewel if it's done right," said resident Joe Lombardo, who was raised in the downtown area and moved back to Pittsburg 12 years ago.

Joe Valenzuela, a 61-year resident who moved to Vidrio three years ago, added, "Downtown has been really moving along, and this would continue that economic improvement. It would be great; I'm tired of just looking at dirt."

Pittsburg plans to turn the roughly 1.2 acres off Railroad Avenue between Fifth and Sixth streets into a city park. About a third of the block is already used as a plaza for events such as a Saturday morning farmers market and city-promoted car shows.

Construction could begin by next summer, said Leigha Schmidt, a city planner.

The consensus from those in attendance Tuesday is that a town square could boost downtown foot traffic in the same fashion as downtown Concord's Todos Santos Plaza.

Other suggestions included public art that represents Pittsburg's sister cities, mature trees that can provide shade, a labyrinth pathway, a necklace of lights display similar to Oakland's Lake Merritt and no basketball hoops.

Several residents raised concerns about public safety in the area, given that open spaces in the downtown in years past attracted vagrants, drug trafficking and other crime.

Resident Vern Cromartie suggested police open a satellite station in the vicinity of the park. Greg Osorio said that a heavy police presence when the park is first opened would send a strong message and prevent crime.

Any park proposal would emphasize crime prevention through environmental design, including lighting, Schmidt said. Several Vidrio residents also said surveillance cameras point at the lot.

The city block was included in the original plans for Vidrio in the mid-2000s. However, those plans went awry when AF Evans Development hit financial trouble, stopped work and defaulted on the project, with only one block near completion.

With the block undeveloped, Pittsburg started using the space in 2009 for the farmers market. Based on its popularity, the city put $1.25 million in park and redevelopment agency funds toward creating a plaza on about a third of the block.

Pittsburg has about $1.2 million to design and build a park, thus it would likely happen in phases, Schmidt said.

Pittsburg is taking more input about downtown park ideas, including at Saturday's farmers market and planned neighborhood improvement meetings. The city's community advisory commission would see conceptual plans by the end of the year, Schmidt said.

Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.

Park Ideas:
Residents are invited to offer their suggestions for the planned park in downtown Pittsburg. Contact Leigha Schmidt at 925-252-4920 or email her at lschmidt@ci.pittsburg.ca.us.