DOWNTOWN — An American sculptor known for large-scale public art projects is the front-runner for a City Hall contract to beautify a rebuilt Parking Structure 6 on Second Street.

Mike Ross, best known for his work “Big Rig Jig,” consisting of two modified tanker trucks attached to each other vertically in an “S” shape to represent the precariousness and danger of an addiction to oil, is the Cultural Affairs Division’s pick for the public art project and he is expected to be approved by the Arts Commission tonight.

“We’re very excited and think he is a rising star,” said Jessica Cusick, Cultural Affairs manager for City Hall with more than 20 years of experience working in the arts for governmental agencies, the private sector and nonprofits.

The budget for the public art component of the parking structure rebuild is $150,000, which includes payment to the artist as well as materials, insurance and other costs, Cusick said.

Construction on the structure is anticipated to begin in spring 2012 and completed at the end of 2013, according to a city staff report presented to the City Council on July 26.

Preliminary design plans consist of three subterranean levels and eight above-ground parking levels for a total of 750 spaces, a net increase of approximately 400 spaces. That would include 30 electric vehicle charging stations, storage area for the Farmers’ Market, 7,000 square feet of retail space facing Second Street and bike racks to accommodate up to 90 bicyles. There will also be solar panels on the roof, according to preliminary designs.

Parkers would cascade up and down an exterior, diagonal staircase that weaves in and out of the structure’s Second Street facade. This is expected to improve safety with its high visibility and offer people views of the ocean, according to the staff report.

The back of the structure, which faces the alley east of Second Street with portions visible from the bustling Third Street Promenade, concerned commissioners and members of the City Council, who felt it needed something more aesthetically appealing than a blank wall.

City officials and merchants have said the Downtown structures need to be functional but also attractive and clean since they are often the first thing visitors to Santa Monica come in contact with when they arrive.

Arts Commission Chair Michael Myers, associated director of the Ruskin Group Theatre on Airport Avenue, said adding art elements to the structures and adjacent public alleys is an important component of Santa Monica’s Cultural Master Plan.

“The alleys have a lot of foot traffic and I think it is a great place for [public art],” he said.

City Hall’s public art program was recently recognized by Americans for the Arts, the leading national professional arts service organization, for all three projects submitted for the 2011 “Year in Review.” Those works include “Cradle,” by Ball Nogues Studio, and “Wheels” by Anne Marie Karlsen; both works can be found on the facades of the parking structures attached to Santa Monica Place.

“We have some pretty cool projects already in place,” Myers said. “I think [Ross] is a really talented artist and he will do a great job with the parking structure.”

Ross, 35, is a graduate of Stanford University with a degree in symbolic systems. After college he traveled to New York where he made a living working on artificial intelligence research projects, he said. While there he fully embraced the arts scene and his career began to flourish.

Since he has been commissioned by Key West, Fla. twice to create public art projects, including “Colorfield” with Nicole Whelan, an interactive sculpture made from simple construction materials that allows people to use ropes and pulleys to control the movements of colored panels in the air and their hued shadows on the ground.

Ross has also been commissioned by the Abington Art Center in Pennsylvania, and is currently working on two projects, “Jet Kiss” in Seattle’s Capitol Hill Light Rail Station, and another public arts project in Sacramento. Budgets for those projects have ranged from $8,000 to $560,000, according to Ross’ resume online.

“I really enjoy bringing art to the people,” Ross said.

He has spent hours hanging out at Parking Structure 6 soaking in the surroundings. While he cannot divulge any details since the Arts Commission hasn’t officially selected him yet, Ross said he believes it will be “something spectacular, something fantastic.”

“What is very interesting about [the structure and alley space] is that even though you have all this hustle and bustle, the alley itself is a very clam environment,” Ross said. “So I want to play off that and off this interesting structure that has this very Cartesian element. That combined with this tranquility of the space is really interesting to me.”

The Arts Commission is scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. at the Ken Edwards Center, 1527 Fourth St.

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