Thursday, March 7, 2013
Much like the cultural anthropologist who spoke at the beginning of the nearly four-hour Monterey City Council meeting March 5 – and said she had studied the ways of consumer spending – I have studied the way of the Agriculturus humungous richus, a unique subspecies of farmer found almost exclusively in the Salinas Valley. I have lived among them, observing them in their natural habitats – their obsession with Mediterranean-style kitchens, the jewels their women wear, the weave of their fleece vests – and I know this to be true: Agriculturus humongous richus hate losing even more than they love winning.
So here’s hoping Tanimura & Antle’s Wharf Marketplace proposal, which the Monterey City Council chose for further wooing into the old train depot (after ignoring the recommendations of a planning subcommittee and city staff, both telling them they needed to back the little guy and his cafe proposal), proves to be a winning bet.
Because if it’s not, I don’t want to be in the same room when Rick Antle, the Agriculturus humongous richus president of Salinas ag giant T&A, gets a gander at those early profit-and-loss statements for his Wharf Marketplace. He and his friends in the hospitality industry (and by “in the hospitality industry,” I mean “they run everything,” not, “they will provide your turndown service tonight”) who showed up to the meeting en masse to back T&A’s marketplace proposal might lose their minds if it’s not a success.
The Marketplace is being spun as a mini Pike’s Place Market, a la Seattle, or a local Ferry Building Plaza, a la San Francisco. Both of those have the backing of a combination of locals and tourists, along with easy access to public transit, national brand retailers and a deep sense of place.
And according to the aforementioned anthropologist, based on consumer-spending habits, a local version in that location might not be a success for a number of reasons: No dedicated parking; an idea to sell fresh fish and locally grown produce yet catering to tourists, who generally don’t want to walk around with a dead halibut and fresh kale while seeing the sights; competition with the nearby and beloved Tuesday farmers market downtown; competition with the fish sellers on the wharf; the fact that Monterey already has a locally owned wine shop, flower shop and more than one bakery – components of the marketplace proposal – within walking distance of the train depot; that studies of shopping behavior show California shoppers do the majority of their grocery buying via car… the list was endless.
(Not that there wasn’t heated rhetoric emanating from both sides. One public speaker among several dozen suggested Antle should stay in the Salinas Valley and open his marketplace at the Salinas Train Depot instead. Clearly that speaker had never been to the Salinas Train Depot – instead of the salt-sting aroma of the ocean and the barking of seals, tourists there would enjoy the wafting scent of human urine and the barking of drug dealers.)
But after all the hoops the city made its subcommittee and staff jump through, why did the council, led by Libby Downey and eagerly backed by Frank Sollecito and Chuck Della Sala, ignore subcommittee and staff recommendations to go with Sean Allen’s Trailside Cafe idea? Why ignore the appraisal showing a restaurant is probably going to bring in more customers, more revenue and generate more rent for the city than a marketplace?
Smells like money, as in, T&A has a lot of it and Sean Allen just doesn’t, not in the quantity the city wants to bring one of its fading crown jewels into the modern age. (As an aside, Antle in his comments was ickily dismissive of Allen’s $120,000 friends-and-family fund, considering Antle owes his success to forefathers himself.) In a few simple steps, the obstacles T&A faced miraculously disappeared: first the owners of the Saucito Land Company broke off negotiations with Doug Wiele, who has a track record as a developer and planned to open a multi-tenant marketplace on Alvarado Street. Then the city told the wharf subcommittee to give T&A a second long look and still they recommended Trailside. Then the powerful hospitality industry showed up for T&A.
And then on a 3-2 vote, with Allan Haffa and Nancy Selfridge dissenting, they went with the Marketplace. Antle says the joint will be open by August, but there are still many hurdles, including who’s going to pay for pricey upgrades to the utility services to the building, who’s paying for exterior improvements and how much rent T&A is going to pay.
“I don’t want us to think too small,” Downey said in making her motion to go with T&A. “I want us to think regionally [and] I want us to think of this as a nice way to work with our county.”
MARY DUAN is the Weekly’s editor. Reach her at email@example.com.