Oakland -- The city is about to unveil its second downtown plaza just one block from -- of all places -- its other downtown plaza.

Latham Square Plaza is supposed to be everything that the much larger Frank H. Ogawa Plaza is not: welcoming, busy and a boon to local merchants. Proponents hope that transforming one block of Telegraph Avenue at Broadway into a pocket park with weekly entertainment will bring a bit of Oakland's vibrant Uptown Arts District closer to the grittier city center.

But some property owners aren't yet on board. They fear that the plaza will disrupt traffic flow and be more popular with homeless people than hipsters.

Phil Tagami, a developer who owns a share of the adjacent Rotunda Building, said the plaza could be a boon, but only if it's more than a collection of tables, benches and planters.

"If you're going to do this kind of street closure there needs to be something that attracts people," said Tagami, who suggested a restaurant or food stand. "Without those elements, it falls into disrepair and it falls into neglect."

The debate over Latham Square Plaza will continue for months after the plaza begins a three-month trial run on Aug. 16. Council members are slated to get a progress report in November before they approve a long-term plan for the area.

The final design could make the single block of Telegraph between 16th Street and Broadway a permanent car-free zone, with traffic diverted onto 16th and 17th streets. Or city leaders could opt for a smaller plaza with one lane of Telegraph open to motorists merging on to Broadway.

As it stands now, Latham Square is a triangular shaped nook at the intersection of the two major thoroughfares. It is home to Oakland's best-known public sculpture, a 100-year-old fountain dedicated to James Latham and his wife, Henrietta, for their devotion to animal welfare. And it is bounded by two of Oakland's architectural jewels, the Rotunda Building, which once was home to a major department store and the gothic revivalist Cathedral Building, which resembles New York City's Flat Iron Building.

Before the rise of the automobile and the suburban shopping center in the late 1950s, the area was the third largest retail center in California. "This was an exciting, modern place -- almost like what you'd think of Shanghai today," said Morten Jensen, of JRDV Architects, who has volunteered on the project.

The area is becoming exciting again, especially several blocks to the north where numerous bars restaurants and art studios have taken root. But the revival thus far has escaped Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, which housed the 2011 Occupy Oakland encampment, but is too big for smaller scale arts events.

"Right now, there's just not enough warm bodies, not enough tenants not enough stuff happening to activate something that large," Jensen said.

Latham Square Plaza should be more manageable as an event space and is situated in full view of the district's newest bars, restaurants and theaters.

"We look at it as the foot of the Uptown Arts District," said the plaza's designer, Matthew Passmore. "It will anchor the bottom of all the energy and culture that's going on Uptown."

The pilot plaza, funded through a $200,000 state grant, will extend Latham Square by filling the adjacent block of Telegraph with built-in and free-standing furniture that will allow planners to test out different arrangements for the final design. There will be room for more than 100 people and seating for about 50, Passmore said.

The permanent plaza will have electricity, fancier furniture and restored water flow to the fountain. The recycled benches and tables used for the pilot project can be transported to other streets to test their potential as pedestrian plazas, Oakland Transportation Planning Manager Iris Starr said.

Responsibility for maintaining and programming the plaza rests with the Downtown Oakland Association. The business group will assign its community ambassadors to watch over the plaza and is working with the nearby Awaken Café on doing weekly Friday evening concerts.

The association's Andrew Jones said he is taking to heart concerns about keeping the plaza clean, free of graffiti and safe from vandals, who smashed windows at nearby shops during recent protests. In the latest issue of the Bay Area anarchist magazine, Fireworks, an article described a similar public plaza program that has come to Oakland from San Francisco as a symbol of gentrification that "serves consumption, not people."

Jones said that the plaza will have such a "positive vibe," that he doesn't anticipate any issues. "Once the community starts to come here, you're going to stand as an odd man out if you're trying to ruin it."

Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435