Thursday, August 18, 2011
Big arrows and bright icons on Del Monte Avenue’s signs direct visitors to Cannery Row, Fisherman’s Wharf, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium – all top-notch destinations, none in downtown Monterey.
“Why is Alvarado Street not played up on any signs?” asks Henry Ruhnke, the head of Monterey-based Wald, Ruhnke & Dost Architects. He sees it as a symbolic indicator of downtown’s non-entity status. What’s more, some of the city’s most historic places, such as the oft-empty Custom House Plaza, are cut off from the downtown core by poorly conceived street layouts.
But Ruhnke’s firm, in conjunction with city planners, has a vision to transform Alvarado, Calle Principal and surrounding streets into something memorable and – with any hope – money-making.
By December, consultants from Bay Area Economics will mete out a phasing plan and timeline that combine the city’s revamped traffic plans with Ruhnke’s overarching vision. That work will determine the project’s price tag, says Kim Cole, the city’s principal planner.
Ruhnke first presented his vision to City Council in November 2009. Ambitious and comprehensive, the plan included creating a mixed-use development with national retailers and transforming the Simoneau transit plaza at the intersection of Munras Avenue and Tyler and Pearl streets into a center for festivals, art installations and cultural celebrations. (The existing transit center would be moved one block south.)
The city would need to dramatically revamp traffic and parking infrastructure to implement it. A pair of grants from Caltrans and the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution District totaling $200,000 got the ball rolling on traffic studies in fall 2010, completed by a pair of San Francisco Bay Area-transportation consulting firms, Fehr and Peers and Nelson Nygaard.
The city awarded the downtown contract to WR&D and San Jose firm Slavik Group in May, and hosted a public parking and transportation charrette June 28-30 to explore options for downtown, including turning all of the one-way streets into two-ways and revamping the clunky “gateway” intersection of Del Monte Avenue and Washington Street to make it more pedestrian-friendly and aesthetically pleasing.
City Council approved the “preferred alternative” traffic and parking plan, including the aforementioned changes, Aug. 2. Cole says the city’s engineering department will concurrently examine the approved transportation elements and determine the cost of the proposed changes.
Ruhnke is inspired by successful developments in much larger urban areas, such as Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade and Santana Row in San Jose; Slavik master-planned the expansion of the latter. Both developments are credited with revitalizing their respective areas by anchoring shopping complexes with national retailers.
But while many downtown business owners support the plan, some have reservations.
“I would have preferred to see the historic aspect of downtown Monterey given more emphasis,” says James Bryant, who’s owned and operated Carpe Diem Fine Books on Pearl Street since 2005. “I’m concerned that [WR&D’s] landmark architectural features proposed in their concepts seem to be out of scale with downtown.”
Ruhnke is quick to point out his “walk of history” concept connects a number of historic adobe buildings and plazas in a thematic path marked by storytelling signage and monuments. Meanwhile, Old Monterey Business Association Executive Director Rick Johnson is more optimistic. “This is a wonderful opportunity to ask, where do we go forward from where we are while preserving who we have been?” Johnson says.