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Gather at the Plaza?

SANTA FE, N.M. — Want to hang out at Civic Plaza?

It may not sound like an appealing proposition today, but there’s a new push to make the Downtown square a more popular and inviting community gathering space. And they want your input.

Southwest Airlines on Wednesday announced that Civic Plaza was among six public spaces to receive grants through Heart of the Community, a Southwest-funded place-making program that helps “re-imagine and activate important, under-utilized local public spaces.”

The grant is valued at about $200,000, with $100,000 coming in cash and the rest in expert guidance and technical assistance.

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DowntownABQ MainStreet will administer the grant, working in conjunction with Project for Public Spaces, a 40-year-old nonprofit that has helped with similar projects around the world.

The money will fund new lighting, tables, chairs, umbrellas, plants, a large projection system and recreational equipment like swings, DowntownABQ MainStreet Executive Director Lola Bird said.

marla brose/journal Landscape architect Laurie Firor, left, chats with PNM volunteer Sue Taylor, second from left, as volunteers and landscape architects helped plant about 1,500 native and drought-resistant plants around Civic Plaza on Wednesday, which was Earth Day. A new grant from Southwest Airlines helped pay for the plants as well as many other planned Civic Plaza improvements and amenities.

marla brose/journal
Landscape architect Laurie Firor, left, chats with PNM volunteer Sue Taylor, second from left, as volunteers and landscape architects helped plant about 1,500 native and drought-resistant plants around Civic Plaza on Wednesday, which was Earth Day. A new grant from Southwest Airlines helped pay for the plants as well as many other planned Civic Plaza improvements and amenities.

The year-long grant dovetails with ongoing efforts by the neighboring Albuquerque Convention Center, which took over management of the plaza in 2014. Convention Center General Manager Jose Garcia said there are plans for numerous community events on the plaza, like kids festivals, arts showcases and a series of food-and-happy-hour nights featuring local restaurants.

“It’s all about bringing activity to the plaza,” Garcia said.

While Project for Public Spaces is providing guidance and expertise during the initiative, Bird said DowntownABQ will continue looking to locals for input on what Civic Plaza should become.

“It’s basically a big year-long experiment to see what draws people out here, what makes them feel comfortable and makes them feel this is really a destination in their community,” she said.

A total of 38 projects applied for Heart of the Community funds this year, said the program’s director Cynthia Nikitim, a senior vice president with Projects for Public Spaces.

The program already has supported projects in seven other communities in recent years.

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