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The farmers market in downtown Hayward Saturday morning October 13th, 2007. (Mike Lucia/Daily Review)
HAYWARD — The downtown Hayward of one year from now could look a lot different from today's:

A big cinema and restaurant complex on B Street, either already open or soon to be.

A new Peet's Coffee and Tea down the street and condos next to the Green Shutter Hotel.

But for all that's coming, there are still a lot of ongoing problems that need to be addressed soon, according to a report released before a Hayward City Council meeting tonight about how to clean up the elements of downtown that keep scaring customers away.

"If it's not clean, if it doesn't feel safe, some lose interest," said Susan Daluddung, the city's director of community and economic development. "We're trying to up our image, basically."

Suggestions for improving the situation run the gamut, according to the city's eight-page report that was based in part on comments from local business owners: Banning sidewalk smoking, adding two police officers on the one-person down-town beat, increasing street lighting, buying a sidewalk power sweeper and putting cash into building upgrades.

Carolyn Leandro, owner of St. Gabriel's Catholic Books, said her biggest problem is the "riff-raff" that hangs around outside her B Street storefront much of the day. She alleges they drink, use drugs, scream and cuss at each other, prostitute themselves and plug their cell phones into the street outlets.

"People are really intimidated by them," Leandro said. "They don't want to bring their kids here, to shop here."

Leandro's solution? For starters, she says the city should pull out all the sidewalk benches it installed several years ago.

Mayor Mike Sweeney said he wants to look at more enforcement against people who act out in "a variety of inappropriate ways." One way to do that, he said, is banning smoking from certain areas near businesses.

"We have some folks who like to leave the bars and smoke and hang out on the sidewalk," Sweeney said. "Looking at some tougher ordinances to move those people out of there might be helpful."

Leandro thinks a smoking ordinance would be a "waste of time."

"That is nothing but more work for our police officers," she said, adding that she does agree with the idea of adding another beat officer to the district.

Sue Lee, owner of Gary's Donuts for the past 18 years, said someone broke her outside table in the middle of one afternoon last week.

But she is more concerned about the tendency of downtown landlords to spike rents despite struggling business inside their buildings. Lee said her rent goes up twice a year and has almost hit $2,000 a month for the family-run shop at the corner of B and Main streets.

Merchants, residents and city officials disagree on some of the causes of downtown's problems. Some argue that outside free-food deliveries to the poor and places such as the Green Shutter Hotel, which houses low-income people, are attracting an undesirable element to the area.

The city's recent report counters some of those arguments, stating, for instance, that police data show Green Shutter residents are more likely to be victims of local crime than perpetrators.

Leandro, however, is one of several local merchants who wish the Green Shutter was shut down.

"I have customers who live there, and it's bad there," she said. "They tell me it's bad."

According to the report, the owner of the hotel is asking the city to donate $250,000 to help him turn part of the upstairs residential area into offices. The building also has benefited from a $500,000 grant to improve its exterior.

And the City Council last year launched a $500,000 initiative to attract new retail by doing a better job marketing downtown and guiding merchants through the process of moving in.

Gloria Ortega, whom the city hired about a year ago to run that program, said there are a number of obstacles that continue to make downtown's business climate challenging.

Ortega said she was close to getting one food-related business to move into a vacant storefront but the company ended up finding another location with more demonstrated foot traffic. 

"But I really think they'll be back at some point," Ortega said. Of downtown, she said, "We're kind of at that strange place where we're almost there but we're not quite there."

Some of downtown's oldest businesses continue to shut down.

The Bottle and Book Shop, a roughly 40-year-old business, closed last week because its lease ran out and the owner of the property, Oakland-based Browman Development, is preparing to tear down part of the neighboring building to build a new retail structure anchored by a Peet's store.

The multiservice store sold everything from vodka to nude magazines to snacks to The Sacramento Bee.

But while the closure — for the short term, at least — adds to an already high rate of B Street vacancies, city officials point across the street, where a new teriyaki restaurant is opening soon.

Daluddung said one of the problems is that downtown's oldest buildings don't always have the infrastructure to make modern businesses work. She described one attractive storefront that would be perfect for a restaurant if only someone could afford installing about half a million dollars in kitchen work.

The meeting at 5:30 tonight at City Hall won't involve any final decision-making on the part of city officials, but they hope to begin acting on some of the recommendations this fall.

Matt O'Brien can be reached at 510-293-2473 or mattobrien@dailyreviewonline.com.