Thursday, July 7, 2011
Time and again, Monterey’s elected officials describe their fair city as “internationally renowned” and “a world-class destination.” But when comes to describing their downtown, these selfsame praise-singers aren’t exactly effusive. They sigh when discussing Alvarado Street and Calle Principal, both of which feature thriving businesses offset by empty storefronts and strange juxtapositions – head shops and furniture stores, fine dining establishments and a Taco Bell – that betray a lack of identity and, in doing so, perhaps offer explanations for lackluster foot traffic.
Mayor Chuck Della Sala is the first to acknowledge the flaws. “Business activity needs to be improved in the downtown core,” he says. “We need more storefronts, and fewer open parking lots.”
Parking is a pet peeve of Doug Wiele’s. A Sacramento-area developer who’s planning a mixed-use development on Alvarado with a ground-level marketplace à la San Francisco’s Ferry Building, Wiele says parking is a crucial component of Monterey’s “dysfunctional downtown with self-inflicted wounds.” Accordingly, his plan for the $15 million, 13,525-square-foot Monterey Market Hall development includes restoring two-hour parking to all downtown spaces that currently allot 60 or 90 minutes to shoppers and diners.
The tangle of one-way streets and antiquated intersections is also problematic, he says: “One-way streets don’t attract retail.”
City planners have heard the complaints from Wiele and numerous downtown business owners, and devoted June 28-30 to fleshing out a transportation and parking plan to bring two-way traffic, wider sidewalks, improved intersections and increased bicycle infrastructure to downtown. The Planning Commission voted June 30 to move forward with a study; its fate now rests with the City Council.
“It’s been my vision to make the downtown core of Monterey more pedestrian-friendly,” Della Sala says. “We’re hoping to expand the downtown business district over the long haul from Pacific Street to Adams Street.”
In the more foreseeable future, there are plenty of changes afoot on Alvarado. While Monterey Market Hall won’t break ground until next year, construction at 316 Alvarado Street is set to begin this month to ready the space for two national tenants: Pinkberry Frozen Yogurt and, if all goes according to plan, another Starbucks outpost.
Developer Mike Marotta says the businesses will bring 40 full – and part-time positions to the city, not to mention the dollars big-brand names attract.
A few blocks south, there’s new hope for longtime local watering hole The Mucky Duck, which was shut down by the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control in May after becoming a raucous crime magnet. New proprietor Anthony Buich, a San Francisco-based restaurateur, is promising to focus more on food, not booze, to draw in tourists and keep trouble at bay.
Despite Della Sala’s big visions for downtown, he’s also focused on firming up the bottom line.
“We need to go out and find the funding,” he says. “But the fact that we have such interest from so many different operators in moving downtown is extremely encouraging.”