Thursday, July 29, 2010
M onterey Mayor Chuck Della Sala has appointed a blue-ribbon committee to guide city and private interests as they take on a much-discussed downtown revamp. The committee includes former mayors Dan Albert, Clyde Roberson and Peter Coniglio; hospitality industry reps and downtown building owners; City Manager Fred Meurer and Councilman Frank Sollecito; and architect Henry Ruhnke, who has spent much of the last year pushing a blueprint for downtown development
“I looked at community voices that would have a significantly meaningful voice in revitalization,” Della Sala says.
Downtown Monterey has become a lightning rod for complaints about the city’s lagging tourism trade, with frustration building around its lackluster appearance, burned-out buildings and faded 30-year-old conference center.
Architect Henry Ruhnke has rallied support among a wide swath of businesspeople and community advocates for a downtown revitalization plan that he says would put Monterey’s city center on par with Santa Barbara’s State Street or San Luis Obispo’s main drag.
Now, Della Sala’s committee appears to be following Ruhnke’s playbook, with a mission statement that addresses at least some of his suggestions. The committee’s charge includes working with stakeholders on a leasing strategy for downtown and looking at regulatory obstacles in the way of economic development.
The City Council also took Ruhnke up on a proposal he made months ago, with its approval last week of a nearly $300,000 traffic study that would look at opening Alvarado Street to two-way traffic and making downtown Monterey easier for newcomers to navigate.
But at least one blue-ribbon commitee member is arguing for more City Council engagement in the process. In a letter to the council, Coniglio says, “what is needed to pursue that task [downtown revitalization] is effective, energetic, and enthusiastic leadership. I would respectfully suggest that is the role of the City Council.”
Coniglio didn’t return phone calls to his office, but he suggests the council take the lead in overseeing a version of the Ruhnke plan and assign staff to do the work. Specifically, he argues for a city-initiated traffic study, which has been approved, and a study of conference center expansion.
The city has recently contracted with former Pebble Beach Company exec Bob Cowdrey to study how to better use, and possibly expand, the Conference Center.