Thursday, August 23, 2012
When Ellen Martin, executive director of First Night Monterey, spent a week sick in bed a little over a year ago, she started daydreaming about how to get more eyes on the art hundreds of Monterey County kids create through the nonprofit’s programming every year.
“I had a vision of what would be of value to residents and tourists, and how we could bridge Custom House Plaza with the wharf,” she says.
Her vision is to move First Night, an arts nonprofit that hosts a family-friendly New Years Eve party, from its New Monterey home to the old train depot at the base of the commercial wharf on Del Monte Avenue. The white stucco building is a relic of the Monterey and Salinas Valley Railroad Company’s original 1880 route that ran until 1971.
First Night Monterey is one of five contenders vying for the vacant building. They’re up against for-profit restaurant and market proposals that could offer the city fair-market-value rent, about $36,000 a year – but Martin’s angling for nominal rent, and hoping the city opts for a community arts center. “Do we really need another restaurant?” she asks.
The competitors presented to the city’s waterfront subcommittee on Aug. 20, offering sketches of bustling commercial enterprises. Agribusiness giant Tanimura & Antle envisions a fresh produce market with Salinas greens trucked in daily. “There’s very little money in it because we’re looking to keep the margins low,” T&A President and CEO Rick Antle says. “It’s more of a give-back to the community.”
T&A’s retail market is up against Robbie Torrise’s Ocean Fresh Fish market, an extension of his wholesale fish business on the wharf. Also in the mix: two restaurant proposals.
Acclaimed Bernardus pastry chef Ben Spungin and his brother, Jay, propose a cafe and creamery – Jay told the subcommittee Ben’s honeysuckle ice cream “will change your life” – inspired in part by San Francisco’s Bi-Rite.
Trailside Cafe manager Sean Allen proposes relocating from his Cannery Row spot to the train depot, where he’d create ample outdoor seating.
Planning Commissioner Bill McCrone noted the conflicting motivations: generating revenue versus creating a community center like First Night, whose proposal also includes a visitors’ center. Mayor Chuck Della Sala demurred, saying, “I think we should go with whatever’s best for the community.”
The city of Monterey’s Waterfront Master Plan Subcommittee is hoping to recommend a tenant to City Council by mid-September.