March 6, 2013
In an effort to get Monterey's sluggish economy rolling again, a divided City Council voted Tuesday night to move forward with plans to make the city's vacant train depot into a year-round, indoor farmers market.
The 3-2 decision to enter into lease negotiations with Salinas agri-business Tanimura & Antle, and make Trailside Cafe (the other contender in this final round) a back-up plan, goes against city staff's recommendation, and two separate votes of the city Waterfront Master Plan Subcommittee.
A standing-room-only crowd packed city hall (above, right), with about equal numbers coming out to support T&A's market plan and owner Sean Allen's plan to relocate from his current Cannery Row location and add on a bicycle rental and visitor center components.
T&A CEO Rick Antle's revised Wharf Marketplace proposal includes Salinas Valley produce, flowers, local cheese and wine, and a small cafe. He expects to open by August.
When City Council last considered the matter in January, there was discussion of whether a market at the wharf would provide undue competition with a proposed indoor market hall on a burned-out block of Alvarado Street.
Negotiations between developer Doug Wiele of Foothill Partners and property owner Saucito Land Company since fell through, setting the stage for City Council's preference for a market, instead of a restaurant, at the 1915 Southern Pacific Passenger Train Depot.
"What a difference two weeks makes," City Councilman Frank Sollecito said before casting his vote. "The marketplace was going to be competition with the Alvarado Street marketplace, and that was sort of bothering me."
But Planning Commissioner Bill McCrone, who serves on the subcommittee that examined five initial proposals for businesses eying the train depot, said Wiele's proposed marketplace plans didn't make a difference.
"This issue of competition was really a red herring," he said. "We were much more concerned about what best complied with the [request for proposals]."
The subcommittee recommended City Council choose a restaurant for the spot, based on an appraisal showing a restaurant is likely to mean higher rent. Allen's proposal also calls for cheaper renovations to the interior of the train depot he'll pay for himself, while Antle's asks for a $226,000 contribution from the city.
City Housing and Property Manager Rick Marvin (above, left) also weighed in to say a restaurant was a better match than a market to the city's waterfront plan and the terms set forth in the request for proposals.
In casting a dissenting vote, indicating his preference for sticking to the recommendation to negotiate a lease with Trailside, Councilman Alan Haffa encouraged the council to consider the subcommittee's recommendation. "We do have a subcommittee…that this council appointed. We've got a staff recommendation, and we've got a large amount of communtiy support.
"That's a lot to say, 'We know better.' I'm not sure we know better."
In an unusual departure from his staff's position, City Manager Fred Meurer weighed in to support the marketplace. He sent a Jan. 9 memo to the mayor, urging him to consider going against the subcommittee recommendation.
"My proposal did not get to this place by asking for special treatment or by lobbying," Allen said. He has two years left on his current lease, and sunk about $15,000 into his plans for the train depot site.
"Trailside Cafe is not a side project," he said. "This is my only project."
In making the motion to enter into negotiations with Salinas agri-business Tanimura & Antle, Councilwoman Libby Downey said, "I don't want us to think too small, I want us to think more regionally."
Mayor Chuck Della Sala chimed in, recalling the day after the 2006 election when he and retired Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue were first elected: "The next day, in a phone conversation, we discussed how we as mayors of our respective cities we could shred the lettuce curtain, that imaginary divide. This is a step in the right direction."