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Public invited to discuss the future of downtown

Modified: Wednesday, Oct 23rd, 2013




WATSONVILLE — The public is invited to a community forum to discuss ongoing efforts to revitalize downtown Watsonville on Nov. 6.

Sponsored by the Santa Cruz County Business Council and Civinomics, a tech startup that is running a downtown-improvement survey, the two-hour event will feature survey results and outcomes from a series of stakeholder meetings with downtown business and property owners.

The public will also have an opportunity to share their own views on what they would like to see downtown and what they would not.

“We will ask people what we missed and what is really important to them,” said Kurt Overmeyer, economic development manager for Watsonville.

The city and their partners’ latest effort to create a more vibrant and busy downtown began in June, with the first of five stakeholder meetings.

“We had all the downtown stakeholders come together and talk to us about how we can get them engaged,” Overmeyer said. “Because obviously the city can’t do it all by itself.”

During the course of the meetings, stakeholders visited area downtowns in Gilroy and Morgan Hill, noting what worked during those cities’ revitalization efforts and also highlighted successful downtowns farther afield in cities like Saratoga, New York or the resort town of Petoskey, Mich.

Participants were asked to think of what makes a successful downtown click, and by reviewing what other jurisdictions have done, Overmeyer said they were able to get a picture of what works downtown and what doesn’t, while picking the very best ideas for possible use in Watsonville.

While Overmeyer was hesitant to divulge many details ahead of the Nov. 6 meeting, he said outcomes from the stakeholder meetings were not all that different from what has come out of the survey, showing that there is at least a preliminary overall consensus of what could be done.

The survey was conducted online and at public venues in Watsonville over the last two months, generating more than 250 responses.

Initial results show a desire for a cleaner downtown, said Overmeyer, and one where people on the sidewalk can clearly see into store fronts, facilitating a greater connection between what is going on in the street and what is happening indoors.

Possible solutions include more proactive code enforcement by the city, which is currently complaint-driven and looking at a way to share the cost of cleanup.

A business-improvement-district fee based on annual sales that is paid by downtown businesses currently goes to support parking lot maintenance and downtown events.

Overmeyer is quick to tout the small-business owners that make their living downtown and said with just a modest amount of help they should be able to sell more and make their establishment more attractive to a greater amount of people.

The city is also looking at ways to encourage property owners to make vital improvements.

“We need to show a credible path to increased rents,” said Overmeyer. “And increased rents come from increased activity.”

Downtown rents are an average of $.75 per square foot, a third of what can be got in Aptos or Capitola.

Highway 152 running down Main Street continues to be a problem for the city, said Overmeyer so one of the goals is to get back control of this key thoroughfare from Caltrans.

“Where can we turn that right-of-way into parking spaces, outdoor dining or other uses that we may not have carefully outlined at this point,” he said.

Two suggestions that quickly rose to the top of the downtown survey, which has been online for about two months, was for more downtown entertainment and restaurant options.

While the city has little control over what businesses decide to open, Overmeyer said they are currently reviewing the 11-year-old alcohol ordinance, which some say is over-restrictive and considering the establishment of a downtown entertainment district.

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The Downtown Watsonville Community Workshop will be held at the Civic Plaza Community Room, 275 Main St., fourth floor, Nov. 6 from 6-8 p.m.

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