Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Two residents envision a new way into Davis

A bicyclist speeds past as Michael Bisch, left, co-president of the Davis Downtown Business Association, and Stephen Nowicki, of the Davis Developmental Pediatrics Group, talk about their idea for improving the gateway into Davis at Richards Boulevard. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise photo

From page A1 | February 24, 2012 | 16 Comments

First impressions can mean everything.

That’s why two residents want to change how most people first meet the city of Davis.

When visitors exit Interstate 80 and travel north toward downtown, the industrial-looking Union Pacific bridge that looms over Richards Boulevard is the first thing they see as they enter the city.

Michael Bisch, co-president of the Davis Downtown Business Association and owner of Davis Commercial Properties, and Dr. Stephen Nowicki, of the Davis Developmental Pediatrics Group, want to transform that trip through the underpass into a more memorable and meaningful experience.

The two have envisioned an idea for an artistic “Welcoming Arch” gateway to be placed in front of the bridge to greet visitors and residents alike.

“I was standing out there one day looking at the tunnel and I’m going, ‘Damn, we already have the gateway feature. It’s just really ugly,’ ” Bisch said. “I started thinking, what can we do to beautify it? What can we do to make it a reflection of what kind of community we have here?”

The underpass, which was deemed a landmark in 1998 for its architecture and engineering, is adorned with rusted metal piping and faded cement, without any Davis representative symbol on its face.

Bisch and Nowicki have envisioned a Gabion-style gateway to roll over the face of the Richards tunnel, and the pedestrian tube running alongside it, that would resemble the mural on the old Terminal Hotel building at Second and G streets that was torn down in September 2000.

Gabion walls are normally cages filled with stones or sand and are used by civil engineers for road building or military applications. Nowicki would like to fill the wire mesh structure that would make up the entire welcoming archway with various city treasures meaningful to Davisites.

“We’d put a call out to the citizens of Davis and ask, ‘What does Davis mean to you?’ ” Nowicki said. “Are there some items that feel like they are important to you? Used bike parts, old chemistry stuff, pottery? And we’d fill it with artifacts and it would bring the community in and create this time capsule feel to it.”

On top of the structure, Bisch and Nowicki would place metal artwork of children, representing the importance the community places on family. Nowicki, a sculptor who primarily works with metal, first thought about the cover of Mark Twain’s novel, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” and went to work, sketching out ideas.

“The children would be three-dimensional and composed of shaped sheet metal in a similar fashion as the metal piece in front of Mikuni,” Nowicki wrote in an email. “I would alternate both bright elements and other elements that would naturally patina (tarnish). This would be for both contrast and to set the mood of the characters.”

Bisch also imagined one or two of the metal children sitting on the arch holding fishing poles, which would play nicely into the next part of the community project he and Nowicki have envisioned: painting the street below.

“If we’re going to paint the street well, we might as well paint a pond or a stream down there that they’re fishing in,” he said.

Ideas sought

But though Bisch and Nowicki have many ideas, they emphasize how much they want Davis residents to work together and create something the community collectively approves of.

“Right from the get-go we were talking about it not just being two guys trying to make this happen, but that it would be a community project, too,” Bisch said.

“We’re open to all kinds of ideas. I had always envisioned that this would be a living project and people would want to start adding pieces to it. For example, if someday somebody wants to paint a stream coming down the street and emptying into the pond or making a waterfall.”

Added Nowicki, “There’s always the thing about being an artist and putting something that big in the middle of a city and being run out of town with pitchforks. So we need to get it out there and get some dialogue started in terms of what people’s opinions are.”

Bisch and Nowicki are still very much in the preliminary phases of the project and understand that it will be a “lengthy process” to get it going. They still must bring their idea before the city’s community development staff and various city commissions.

Two weeks ago, they attended a Civic Arts Commission meeting to share their idea and ask for support.

According to chairman Nikhil Joshi, the commission voted 5-1 to support the idea, though he himself isn’t ready to start building.

“It seems that the CAC likes the idea of art at the tunnel,” Joshi wrote in an email. “It would be really great to have an art piece to welcome visitors to downtown Davis.

“(But) if we want art at the tunnel, then we should have it be an open RFQ/RFP that any artist can apply for. I don’t have a problem with their proposal, per se, I just wanted it to be a more open process.”

Hurdles ahead

Bisch and Nowicki also have not begun looking for funding for the project, but they agree it would be privately funded, with no government money involved.

There’s also a question of whether the two would have the legal right to construct the archway in front of the tunnel. Union Pacific owns the bridge and the bridge itself remains a historical landmark.

Katherine Hess, the city’s community development administrator, says a lot would go into planning a project such as what Bisch and Nowicki have proposed.

“Some of it depends on exactly how the structure is proposed to be sited,” Hess said. “If you attach something to the railroad tracks, you’d probably need the approval of Union Pacific. If you pull it away — and I don’t know how far away you’d have to pull it — at some point there’s a distance where they’re not a party to the conversation.

“The historical commission also looks at the setting for a historic resource. So even if something is not attached to a historic resource, if it’s going to be near the resource and it’s going to change the way the resource relates to its environment, potentially there is still an impact,” she said.

Bisch and Nowicki understand at the very least they’ll have to go through Union Pacific and the Historic Resources Management Commission to get the project approved. But the group they most care about receiving approval from are the residents of Davis themselves.

“This was never forseen that it was going to be two guys making this project happen regardless of what anybody else thought,” Bisch said. “This was an idea that we came up with. We think it’s good.

“Hey, fellow residents, what do you think? Do you think this is a great idea?”

— Reach Tom Sakash at or (530) 747-8057. Comment on this story at Follow him on Twitter @TomSakash

Tom Sakash

Tom Sakash covers the city beat for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at, (530) 747-8057 or @TomSakash.

Discussion | 16 comments

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  • The World's Gone CrazyFebruary 23, 2012 - 4:54 pm

    I’d rather realign the westbound Richards Blvd. off ramp and put a stop light there. I’ve been driving through the Davis Subway since April 1954. The traffic patterns between the freeway off ramp and the Olive Dr. stop light can get pretty crazy. First make it functional and then if there is any money left over make it pretty.

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  • Noreen MazelisFebruary 23, 2012 - 7:23 pm

    Ohmygosh. That SP bridge is sooooo ugly that the idiots on the Silly Council must immediately squander (at least) another $70,000 on yet another "artistic project" to "beautify" it.

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  • Stephen NowickiFebruary 23, 2012 - 11:32 pm

    Hello, I would like to respond to the comments and clarify that city or county financing is not being solicited for this public art installation. The objectives of the project are to transform the visual experience of visitors to Davis and bring the community together to express the values and principles that are dear to Davis residents. I agree the traffic patterns at Olive are challenging, but this problem is beyond the scope of our project. Thank you for reading the article and I look forward to additional constructive comments.

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  • Former ResidentFebruary 24, 2012 - 7:43 am

    It's not fair to assume that "everyone" thinks the current bridge/gateway is ugly. There are lots of us out there who like it just the way it is and part of why we like it is its history. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, not in the opinions of a couple of members of the business community.

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  • GuestFebruary 24, 2012 - 7:43 am

    An RFQ/RFP? C'mon. This is a brilliant idea! Even if you don't like the art concept, at least these two are trying to do something proactively. People love to complain, but rarely are those same individuals willing to get up off their butts and do something about it. We should support and even encourage creative ideas like this rather than complain; or wrap it in red tape and wait years for it to work through the system (or more likely die). The tunnel is, frankly, hideous. Right now it sends the message, "Welcome to our town." Wouldn't it be nice if the message was, "Wow!" Bravo Dr. Nowicki and Mr. Bisch!

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  • GuestFebruary 24, 2012 - 7:45 am

    That should say, "Welcome to our ugly town."

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  • casperFebruary 24, 2012 - 8:53 am

    Have an artist competition to paint a mural. Cost = ZERO. Benefit to Artist(s) = BIG

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  • guestFebruary 24, 2012 - 10:11 am

    I think it would be more useful to solve the bottleneck issues at this intersection, rather than simply try to make it a prettier bottleneck. The message it will give visitors to our town is "welcome to davis, where the traffic downtown is such a nightmare you'll want to pull your hair out...but at least it looks pretty!"

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  • old timerFebruary 25, 2012 - 5:05 pm

    The bottleneck is the only effective traffic-calming measure to get the 75-mph I-80 cars to slow down enough to encounter the pedestrian and bicycle-friendly downtown. Sometimes bottlenecks are poor planning but sometimes they save lives.

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  • GuestFebruary 24, 2012 - 11:00 am

    If they had constructed the gateway that was approved by the city council back in the '90's there wouldn't be this discussion. Since opponents of the project got a measure on to ballot they got voters to kill the project. I think what got the measure passed was when the opponents ran an ad of the concept design and put the copy "Is this what we want for Davis." In responce I think that what the suportters should of done is run an ad that has a picture during rush hour trafic and copy saying the same thing. Is this what we want for Davis.

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  • AdRemFebruary 24, 2012 - 10:34 pm

    Form over substance----> There you go again!

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  • J. KerrFebruary 25, 2012 - 8:19 am

    I like Bisch and Nowicki's idea. I most appreciate that they are open to input and in no way think that their initial idea is a final draft. We have a great opportunity here to discuss what kind of art would best represent our city. Please stop and think about how art effects you life. Traffic congestion is a separate issue. Yes, the level of service around the tunnel is very poor but the alternatives would be horrible. If we could widen the tunnel and/or widen Richards Blvd. then a higher volume of traffic could flow into downtown, where it then would be bottlenecked among our pedestrian- and bike-friendly downtown streets and intersections. I personally like that the long traffic queues occur just outside of town. Does anyone know of any communities that have developed their downtown core in a way that is pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly and has free-flowing vehicle traffic? You simply have to choose between one or the other and Davis is among a small handful of places that has made the right choice. I think a better idea would be to provide parking between the tunnel and the freeway and the art could include a sign that reads "Welcome to Davis. Park here. Come on in." Or "Freeway Culture Stops Here." I want visitors to know that what lies on the other end of the tunnel is so much better than another freeway stop in the United States of Generica. I'm a non-artist but I know that art could express this message better than any sign.

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  • 43-year DavisiteFebruary 25, 2012 - 5:10 pm

    Wonderful idea on the parking lot. It also beats the newest multi-story parking structure recently advanced IN the downtown. And I love the sign suggestions!

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  • casperFebruary 25, 2012 - 11:29 am

    Kerr - very good points, esp the parking idea.

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  • just thinkingFebruary 25, 2012 - 12:57 pm

    If they really plan to build some sort of big hotel and conference center right at that exit, these two need to make the undercrossing REALLY inviting. Otherwise, the hotel guests will just order a lot of room service, because no one can even see downtown from there, and they'll be hesitant to venture downtown on foot under the train tunnel . We have so much to offer just on the other side of the tunnel, and some people probably won't bother to leave their hotel.

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  • shopownerFebruary 25, 2012 - 2:08 pm

    Currently, the tunnel is dark, dirty and looks like it belongs in a shady neighborhood. That's not our town. Our town is wonderful and quaint. Bisch and Nowicki’s ideas reflect how terrific Davis is. What better way to share this but with a tunnel that is as unique as Davis . Keep working on it guys.

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