January 16, 2013
It might not be the gateway to the Peninsula it was when the passenger train depot opened in 1915, but Monterey’s red-trimmed, squat building situated just off of Del Monte Boulevard near the base of Wharf 2 is getting a new tenant.
The city’s Waterfront Master Plan Subcommittee vetted proposals for the historic site, and considered five—two restaurants, a fresh produce market, a fish market and a nonprofit arts hub.
City Council agreed 5-0 Tuesday night to narrow the list of possible contenders to a market, proposed by Salinas produce agribiz Tanimura & Antle (CEO Rick Antle pictured above, right, with Mayor Chuck Della Sala), and Trailside Cafe, which proprietor Sean Allen wants to relocate from its current Cannery Row spot.
In considering what kind of venture should occupy the spot, City Council and staff have wrestled with questions about the nature of the city’s role as a landlord. All five proposals the waterfront subcommittee considered proposed rents well below what an appraiser said the depot was worth (up to $4/square foot); the highest proposed rent was $1.11/square foot.
“If we were a private landlord, this would be an easy decision,” Councilman Frank Sollecito said. “The fact that we’re a public landlord, there’s a little more [than profit to consider]. We make money from the success of other businesses.”
City Council’s weighing whether the wharf area is already saturated with restaurants, or the prime location, with pedestrian and bike traffic from the adjacent rec trail, could support another. (Restaurants are among the highest rent-getters.)
Though there’s no permanent fresh produce market downtown, developer Doug Wiele, who built the Trader Joe’s shopping center, is at work on a marketplace concept for the burned-out lot on Alvarado Street.
“I’m not looking forward to competition for my marketplace,” Wiele told City Council.
Wiele’s landlord, Jerry Anderson of Saucito Land Company, said, “We’re really concerned that there isn’t room for two such uses in Monterey.” If the T&A farmers market gets approved, he said they’d be discouraged from proceeding with the marketplace plans at all.
That T&A made the final cut at all goes against the subcommittee’s recommendation, which was to pick one of two restaurants. But in a Jan. 9 memo to City Council, City Manager Fred Meurer issued a rare departure from city staff’s recommendation, urging a closer look at the year-round farmers market. “The main reason for us owning property is to be able to control its use as a landlord,” Meurer wrote.
The proposals that City Council eliminated from the running last night were one by Bernardus pastry chef Ben Spungin and his brother, Jay, who proposed a cafe and creamery, and a fish market.
The Spungins’ proposal, Southern Pacific Market, included retail pastries, sandwiches and chocolates. They’d proposed counter service for breakfast and lunch, with a menu featuring wood-fired pizzas and paninis, and a creamery making fresh ice cream.
Robbie Torrise proposed an extension of his Ocean Fresh Fish market located on Wharf 2. He urged City Council to consider his proposed use as the most historically relevant: “Sardines were here before restaurants were here.”
After council voted to proceed with further discussions with T&A and Trailside Cafe, Torrise whispered, “The city made a big F-ing mistake.”
City Council didn’t consider an earlier proposal from First Night Monterey, an arts nonprofit famous for throwing a family-friendly New Years Eve party, to create a community arts center at the train depot. In discussions of the “highest and best use,” the waterfront subcommittee decided a paying tenant was necessary, and First Night requested free rent to create a creative center with exhibitions of artwork by locals and children, and art-making activities.
Allen, of Trailside Cafe, pledged to incorporate fresh local seafood into an extended menu including wine and beer, add a bike rental kiosk, and include informational visitor center materials.
He also told City Council he’d negotiate a higher rent than his originally proposed $1.11/square foot, and would be open to setting rent as a percentage of revenue. “We’re available to pay whatever we need to to get into that spot,” he said.