MARTINEZ -- During a recent City Council retreat and again in his annual State of the City address Tuesday, Mayor Rob Schroder pointed to the stock market's resurgence, falling unemployment and the housing sector's rebound as evidence that the national economy is turning around.
After years of "hunkering down" and riding out the recession, Schroder said it's time for Martinez to lay the groundwork for economic growth. To that end, the council has agreed to hire a senior staff member to work on economic development, housing, parking and quality-of-life issues.
"If you want to catch this economic wave you have to be in front of it, so I think we are being very wise in creating this position and getting the city ready to catch this surge," Schroder said Monday.
During the retreat last weekend, the council agreed to focus on economic development, opportunities at the waterfront, infrastructure, fiscal well-being and community wellness.
"Martinez is not a huge, fast-growth place. It's an evolutionary-change place," City Manager Phil Vince said, noting the historic decline of the canning and fishing industries and the retail sector. "What we're trying to do is get back what we had."
Martinez has unique assets -- the waterfront area, open space and hiking trails -- and amenities such as the new swimming pool and remodeled library, that could make the city a recreational destination with the right marketing push, the council
After five years of a "bunker mentality" due to the economy, Vince said it's time for the city to take some risks.
"We have to be big, we have to make big decisions and we're probably going to take some heat for it," he said.
In his speech Tuesday, Schroder outlined last year's achievements and ongoing challenges.
A partial dredge opened the marina up to most boats at low tide, but a lack of funding prevented the city from rebuilding docks. While fixing the aging infrastructure at the marina has been on the city's agenda for decades, the council recently decided to focus equally on landside development.
Schroder said the city is negotiating a long-term lease with a Pleasant Hill restaurateur who wants to open an upscale restaurant at the former site of the Albatross restaurant, near the harbor master's office.
Construction could begin as early as this summer, Schroder said, but the project still needs approval from the state Lands Commission, East Bay Regional Park District and San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission.
Council members also would like to see a hotel with conference facilities built in the waterfront area. City staffers are working on a marina master plan to identify the infrastructure needs for the entire area and a market feasibility study to evaluate the cash flow potential of a hotel and restaurant.
But obstacles to rebuilding the marina persist. The state Department of Boating and Waterways recently rejected the city's request to defer for three to five years payments on $4.1 million in outstanding loans, Schroder said.
The department's interim director wants an "ironclad" guarantee the city will repay the money, plus signed agreements with restaurant and hotel developers before she will restructure the loans, he said.
Schroder on Tuesday painted a rosier picture of the city's finances than in recent years. Martinez has $3.9 million in reserves, up $600,000 from 2011. Although property tax is projected to remain flat this year, sales tax is expected to increase 2 to 3 percent, Schroder said.
Eighteen outdoor dining platforms were installed downtown, two indoor sports complexes opened near the Amtrak station, the city's first new shopping center in more than a decade opened on Arnold Drive, and 610 Court St. is being remodeled for future retail and office space.
The Police Department hired eight police officers last year and is fully staffed with 37 sworn officers, Schroder said. Violent crime fell by 1 percent, but property crimes under $50 increased by 9 percent, he added.
Martinez is starting to see the benefits of the ordinance the council adopted last year banning aggressive panhandling, and the Contra Costa County homeless census last month identified 24 homeless people in Martinez who were not living in shelters, according to Schroder, down from 130 in 2011. The county has not released the figures yet.
The city plans to repave parts of Arnold Drive, Center Avenue and Reliez Valley Road this year. Finally, after several delays, construction has begun on Berrellesa Palms, a 49-unit senior affordable housing complex at Berrellesa and Buckley streets.
Although the project was controversial, Schroder said, "I believe it will be a real catalyst for neighborhood improvement in that area."
Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.