Hoping to reverse decades of frustration, Salinas city officials are taking another look at a downtown revitalization effort.
On Tuesday, the Salinas City Council will consider seeking a consultant to help with the latest attempt to redevelop the city's core, dubbed the "Downtown Vibrancy Plan." The proposal, which is on the council's consent agenda, calls for the consultant to work under the direction of a new Downtown Stakeholder Team, which is still to be appointed and would consist of business and property owners, and other downtown community members.
Mayor Joe Gunter said the proposal was initiated by his predecessor, Dennis Donohue, but added that he supports it in concept.
Gunter said he'll reserve final judgement until he sees what kind of consultant proposals the city receives. But he added that an attempt to focus on upgrading downtown is worthwhile, pointing to both opportunities and challenges with the new 97,000-square-foot Taylor Fresh Foods headquarters project under way on the crucial 100 block of Main Street and the unacceptably high rate of vacant storefronts in the area.
"Exciting things are coming," Gunter said, hinting that announcements about new downtown businesses were pending. "Getting people actively involved in downtown is a good thing."
Gunter said the difference between this downtown redevelopment effort and previous ones is "this is all going to be above board."
Under the proposal, a request for qualifications would be sent out to consulting firms as early as this week, provided the council offers its approval, with a proposed Feb. 21 deadline for responses. A staff report said the city has already budgeted $195,000 over the next three years for the initiative, including $75,000 for both this fiscal year and next, and $45,000 in 2013-14.
The new downtown stakeholder team would help select the consultant and work to establish a scope of work with the goal of defining a common downtown boundary and a more broadly defined area with uniform planning and zoning policies. The team would also be charged with conducting public meetings and charettes to get the community involved in setting priorities.
Recent downtown redevelopment efforts, especially over the past decade, have foundered despite years of efforts involving several different groups, most of whom proposed hotels on the long-vacant 100 block parcel where the historic Caminos Hotel stood until it was razed in 1989.
Most recently, a group called Salinas Renaissance Partners, led by Carmel developer Robert Leidig, conducted a lengthy visioning process for the downtown area in 2009 that resulted in a sweeping redevelopment plan before city officials decided to sever ties the following year, citing concerns about the group's financial capacity.
Leidig and his son Curtis sued the city for $2 million alleging breach of contract and accusing Donohue of working behind the scenes to bring the Taylor Fresh Foods headquarters into downtown. Most of the suit was tossed out last month.
Previous downtown redevelopment efforts included:
· A 2008 proposal by New York-based The Widewaters Group, also including Leidig, to include downtown city property in a broad renovation that apparently fell apart amid disagreements between company officials and Leidig. That prompted Leidig to form Salinas Renaissance Partners and convince city officials to give him a shot.
· A 2006 bid by six Salinas-area businessmen, under the name Salinas City Center Company, to build a hotel and condominium complex on the 100 block parcel.
· A three-year attempt by developer Gerry Kehoe to build a hotel, condos and retail space on the 100 block parcel that ended in 2005 when the city cut ties amid questions about his finances.
Also Tuesday, the council is set to consider proposed changes to city rules that would allow the Banker's Casino card room near downtown to add two more card tables, for a total of 11, and limit off-track horse betting to city-authorized card rooms. Banker's Casino representatives have announced they plan to hold a grand opening for its new off-track horse betting room on Feb. 1.
The council will also consider proposed new economic development incentives aimed at attracting new business by using city money to temporarily cover development fees, a pension bond refinancing deal with Rabobank, a 10-year, $1 million naming rights deal with Rabobank for the new Salinas Sports Complex stadium, and the use of about $50,000 from a pool of money for an employee re-training program, paid by Capital One when the firm left town for an employee re-training program.
Jim Johnson can be reached at 753-6753 or email@example.com.
If you go
·What: Salinas City Council
·When: 4 p.m. Tuesday
·Where: 200 Lincoln Ave., Salinas
If you go