YOLO SUN NEWS REPORT :
Meeting on October 7, 2008, Woodland’s City Council, acting as its Redevelopment Agency Board of Directors, will consider embarking on a path toward engagement with what has for decades been identified and described in City planning documents as a pivotal element, an un-redeveloped keystone of the Downtown Specific Plan (DSP) revitalization program.
This project involves eventual transformation of unutilized blight on Bush and College Streets into a thriving and vibrant “commercial courtyard,” referred to as “Downtown Historic Plaza.”
It is firmly anticipated by persons either involved or informed, that Woodland’s Redevelopment Agency will at this meeting act to approve an expenditure of $60,000 – $80,000 for various consultant services, to help create a design plan considered essential to proper initiation of this project within the core of the City’s downtown area [see below in this article: section with report of informational meeting on September 29 at City Hall].
Empty storefronts and many long-vacant second-floors — plus very significant blight in the form of the enormous, vacant hulk of the former Foy’s Toys building (514 – 518 Main St.), more recently the former Muscle World building — are located within this block of Main Street.
The mid-block, long-ago (early 90s) renovated building which houses Woodland Travel (524 Main St.) included provision of a paseo (public walkway) from Main Street to Dog Gone Alley, in confident expectation of eventual connection with something other than the backside of the — also vacant and enormous — Meyers Building, on Bush and College Streets.
This area is described by the DSP as having “tremendous potential,” in equivalent measure to its current, hugely blighted condition.
Analogous redevelopment has already occurred (1985-1995) within much of the area from Main Street to Dog Gone Alley, between Second and Third Streets. Numerous small businesses now share this paseo and rear courtyard space, including several restaurants; while, pedestrian interest and use are gradually increasing.
If Woodland is ever to achieve overall, successful revitalization of its downtown area, this particular project is obviously pivotal. The City’s downtown district is only two blocks wide — and nine blocks long — mirroring the long and narrow buildings (a noted challenge for retailers) packed along its Main Street.
Bush Street is — the only half-block street — within this elongated zone, potentially functioning as a crucial eddy in the quite slender stream of vital (but not yet vibrant), downtown habitat.
“Such an undertaking,” reads the staff-report for this council agenda-item, “can be costly to the surrounding property owners and to the Redevelopment Agency. This is why it was prudent to solicit ideas on the best practices and best approaches,” from what Redevelopment Manager Cynthia Shallit describes as “skilled, creative and talented architectural and engineering consultants.”
____ The “RFQ” Phase ____
In April of 2008, the Redevelopment Agency issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) involving a committee selection process within which eight consultancy firms responded by submitting formal materials and participating in detailed, focused interviews. These firms were then scored on their level of satisfying the following “criteria:
(a) Development team experience;
(b) Design and land use planning skills;
(c) Financial and real estate analysis and experience;
(d) Knowledge of potential sources of state, federal and private financing sources that may be available for a project of this type;
(e) Experience with mixed-use development;
(f) Experience in developing pedestrian friendly downtown places or projects;
(g) Experience with incorporating historic preservation principles in new development proposals;
(h) Estimated project costs;
(i) Experience in working with property owners and businesses involved in a prospective project site.
After evaluating the firms based on the written proposals, the interviews, quality of past work, and references, the HLA Group, Landscape Architects and Planners, Inc. (HLA) was selected. HLA (- http://www.hlagroup.com -) has teamed with HMR Architects and Nolte Engineering for this project.”
____ Partnership Inquiry From Property Owners ____
This staff-report continues, explaining that recently, “new interest has focused on this site largely because two of the principal property owners are willing to partner with [the Redevelopment Agency] to renovate their buildings and develop the plaza. And, the Agency now has additional funds available to it from the bond issued in 2007.”
“Funds have already been allocated for [such] consultant services in the [Agency’s] ‘08 – ‘09 budget,” indicates the report.” Estimates of the cost of creating such a design plan for this site range from $60,000 to $80,000.
“After a design plan is completed and an implementation and funding strategy has been approved by the Redevelopment Agency Board, then tax-increment funds may be requested to help develop the site,” outlines the report.
Redevelopment Manager Shallit emphasizes that: “Nothing will be done on this project without a lot of community input. We want to know what people think, their ideas and concerns about impacts and opportunities,“ adding that such community influence is strongly desired in order “to best shape this project.”
Shallit explains that: “A thorough fact-finding process will determine all of the parameters of current, physical constraints of the site,” such as: public-safety requirements, limitations of existing infrastructural (water, sewer and electrical) elements, parking analysis, features of feasibility and function related to various layout alternatives, parcel status and analysis, and architectural and aesthetical considerations.
Upon the data base established through this “fact-finding process,” HLA will perform detailed, site examination and analyses, intended to best predicate consideration of the specific nature and scope of developmental opportunities available to the city and relevant property owners, focusing on “modifications to the [Meyers Building] in various configurations,” according to HLA’s work plan.
____ HLA’s Proposed Work Plan ____
In detail, HLA will initially produce: “Existing Conditions, Context and Constraints Analysis Diagrams and a written report of infrastructural analysis,” as well as “conduct a mini-stakeholders’ meeting and prepare meeting minutes.”
This preliminary meeting in the described process will include: “Jeff Morgan (owner of the Meyers Building) and owner(s) of the American Legion building,” in addition to “key City Staff.”
The goal of this initial meeting will be to: “Discuss the City’s vision for the Plan area, outcomes of our analysis, immediately obvious opportunities and constraints and listen to their goals and objectives for this site.”
HLA will subsequently, “conduct a public meeting, presenting our initial thoughts to elicit response and consensus on the design direction to create a clear vision for the Downtown Historic Plaza,” [ ] including “input as to the importance of the Meyers Building, its contributions to downtown’s fabric, and how the Plaza would be used once it is developed. This conversation will inform our team’s design process as we move ahead in creating options for the design of the Plaza.”
HLA will “record all visions, ideas and thoughts relative to the development of the Plan area and compile them into a report for submittal to the City as part of our work product, [ ] and compile a written meeting summary, categorizing issues, comments and questions, noting areas of agreement / disagreement, as well as required follow-up.”
Based on the above processes, HLA “will develop three preliminary plans for the site. The plans will explore various parcel and building configurations as well as different Plaza program components. [HLA] will prepare one perspective rendering for each concept[,] and will prepare order of magnitude cost estimates for each scheme and present them to the community so that they can gain a more comprehensive understanding of the project, balancing needs with wants and gaining a more thorough understanding of what it will take to bring the project to reality.”
These three preliminary alternatives will be the focus of a second public meeting, “to receive comments on each and build consensus for the design direction and preferred elements in order to move forward with a final concept. Feedback from the public review of the preliminary alternatives will be distilled into one final [ ] Historic Plaza Plan alternative.
“Based on the final plan, HLA will produce a digital, 3-dimensional rendering of the site [that] illustrates building massing configurations, green space vs. hardscape and other structures. The rendering will identify the proposed elements and their use, whether public or private.”
HLA anticipates delivering: “Building configurations showing a fully restored building, a partially restored / reconstructed building and building facade only at the edge of the site.”
“As prime consultant, HLA will present the Final Plan and associated order of magnitude costs to the [ ] Historic Preservation Commission, Planning Commission and City Council [and] receive and record comments for inclusion into the final project report.”
____ Informational Meeting of September 29 ____
Key City staff persons (manager, community development director, redevelopment manager) and Woodland Mayor Skip Davies hosted an informational meeting at City Hall on September 29, 2008. It was attended by about 10 persons, most of them members of the Woodland Historic Downtown Business Association, who had urged that such a meeting be convened.
Some downtown business owners have regularly complained about alleged improprieties of municipal notification / communication processes, with such complaints permeated by an historical absence of genuine trust involving city actions within and around the downtown area.
Recent location of a conventional Rite-Aid store on the corner of Main and East Streets, aside the new, multi-story Wiseman Building — upon the downtown’s “eastern gateway” (DSP) — was noted by a participant of this meeting, as a strong reason to often wonder about what the city is actually up to.
“Instead of a million dollars for our downtown [as mitigation for the new Gateway Development Project, at the city’s eastern outskirts), we got this Rite-Aid,” criticized this long-time, downtown business owner.
“This [Historic Downtown Plaza] project is very, very interesting to us, as a city council,” expressed Mayor Davies, at this meeting’s outset. “Opportunities in the Downtown Specific Plan have been described for a long time,” related to development of some form of plaza along the northern side of Bush Street, dominated by the Meyers Building, which once housed an American Motors (Rambler) dealership.
Interest by the council in this project was quantified during this meeting, when Davies described that half of the $1,000,000 profit the city has realized on the sale of the former Senior Center (at First and Lincoln Sts.) to Jeff Morgan, has been “earmarked” for purposes of addressing this project, perhaps for various infrastructural improvements expected to be essential for such a redevelopment project to be best accomplished.
Thus, it seems clear that there already exists some form of preliminary partnership between the city / agency and Morgan, related to eventual creation of an Historic Downtown Plaza on Bush Street.
Mayor Davies was quick to emphasize that the concept of applying this $500,000 to such a project is tentative, dependent upon the future fiscal condition and priorities of the city; while, he explicitly noted uncertainties about the current, national and regional economic climate.
Mayor Davies briefly described Jeff Morgan, as originally being from Knights Landing and owning a water-drilling company headquartered in the former bank building at 500 Main Street (corner of Main and College Sts.). Morgan is “capable financially,” said Davies, and he voices basic concerns that such a project “will pencil, make business sense for me (Morgan);” whose perceived enthusiasm and vision for redeveloping this key area was also noted by Redevelopment Manager Shallit.
____ Redevelopment Fund Constrained ____
This particular funding approach (an initial $500,000 from the City’s general fund) was fashioned by the City Council, it seems, to overcome present domination of the City’s redevelopment fund by the — potential need — to address matters related to parking access, associated with hoped-for retention of local court facilities in Woodland.
The Legislature is in the process of initiating a statewide program of court-related renovations, wherein alternatives to present locations of court facilities are being considered (West Sacramento is competing with Woodland, in this regard).
“500 parking places” may be required, explained Davies, adding that this would necessitate construction of a multi-level parking garage, “since we just don’t have that kind of available land,” in the downtown area.
Davies indicated that the city is preparing grant applications for the purpose of providing alternative resources for a potential parking-structure, in order to make more flexible the city’s redevelopment fund.
“This is not a solution to all parking problems in the downtown area,” exclaimed Davies, who desired that relevant interests recognize the limited zone of direct benefit associated with such a parking-structure, as well as observe city council comprehension of this overall situation. Retaining court facilities in the city, though, is presently a prime subject of council attention and concern.
____ American Legion in Key Position ____
According to Davies, Morgan has made an offer to purchase the building which houses American Legion, Post 77, whose members’ sudden concerns about potential demolishment of their building, caused this same redevelopment item to be temporarily pulled from an agency (council) agenda several weeks ago.
Davies noted that recent changes in leadership within this A.L. Post had simply and briefly obscured pertinent understanding of the basic elements of this matter.
“A good player, . . . with hard questions,” is how Davies portrayed American Legion Post 77 later in this meeting. He also said that Morgan initially attempted a trade — the A. L. building for the former Senior Center building — which Post 77 declined.
Apparently, Post 77 also once indicated significant interest in re-locating to the former National Guard Armory on Beamer Street; until, Davies recounted with a chuckle, he explained that, “putting a bar between city parks and ball fields wouldn’t fly.”
If A. L. Post 77 were to choose to relocate in the midst of such a municipal redevelopment project, the agency is required to best facilitate such a maneuver; which is of keen interest to the Post, said Davies, because it may thus be able to acquire expanded, multi-use facilities, which would provide it with a reliable source of revenue generation, analogous to hall-rental programs “of the [Benevolent and Protective Order of] Elks and [Fraternal Order of] Eagles.”
____ Project Affects on Existing Businesses ____
Both Mayor Davies and Redevelopment Manager Shallit emphasized that a lengthy and detailed process of receiving community input, especially from adjacent businesses, would precede any basic or ultimate determinations about the nature and characteristics of such a project.
All matters must be arranged, related Shallit, “so that existing businesses can be run efficiently and economically.”
Dog Gone Alley still has to function effectively for deliveries to businesses, and existing parking access must be protected, imparted Shallit, who went on to mention potential ideas about undergrounding both utility wires and dumpsters, in an effort to facilitate the workability of an eventual plan.
“Not everybody [in this block] is going to be able to [re]develop at the same time,” Shallit predicted, so that some form of “phase-in” process would need to be arranged, that successfully integrates continuing business operations within the overall, eventual plan. How this will be accomplished, in detail, “cannot now be known,” she indicated, as it all depends on specific parameters and directions for programming a project, which is itself still in the preliminary, visioning phase.
Mayor Davies stated that reaction to this project “by the Morrison brothers was: ‘When are you going to get started!’” He said that they “are very excited” about this project, and discussed making much better use of the balcony features around their building, in conjunction with redevelopment of this unutilized blight, below, into a commercial, community plaza.
Davies stated his belief that the site of the Meyers Building was free from any significant level of environmental contamination. “It’s a clean site, as far as we know,” he said, despite its long history as an automobile shop.
Another desirable aspect of such a project is favorable leveraging of private capital toward eventual elimination of — serious blight — which exerts a profoundly deleterious influence over the whole of the downtown area. A vivid display of such blight exists in the form of the former Foy’s Toys building, which is presently owned by a pharmacist and his wife, who live in Los Gatos (David and Vivian Matsuo).
According to Redevelopment Manager Shallit, the Matsuos have retained local architect Duane Thomson (712 Main St.) to begin consideration of various design scenarios for his building’s badly needed renovation.
“He’s willing to re-do the building in a hospitable way,” indicated Shallit, who went on to suggest that details of this renovation involve a decision regarding the (re)development of residential (contrasted with office) use. She implied that residential use would perhaps have the upper hand, at this point in time.
The notion of linking outcomes of adjoining properties, which all derive mutual benefit from assembly within the context of a comprehensive project under municipal authority, is basic to the concept and purpose of a redevelopment program (which Woodland established in 1988).
Specific to this situation, if the Meyers Building is extensively renovated and public use invigorated, its proximity induces increasing value to the former Foy’s Toys building, helping to support expenses of that building’s renovation. Synergistic dynamics are at the root of public policy that incrementally aggregates the social gravity and resources (public and private) essential for genuine urban revitalization to occur.
“Parking” is presently the major concern about this project of the Elks Club, across Bush Street from the Meyers Building, according to Neal Peart (former city councilmember) who appeared at this meeting to represent its interests. He indicated that the Elks Club owns the entire southern side of Bush Street, and already experiences the usual downtown parking issues, although it also maintains off-street, lot parking.
Parking, according the Shallit, will be a basic feature of analysis within the process of best establishing a comprehensive design plan for this project.
____ Redevelopment Overstretched? ____
Peart abruptly challenged Mayor Davies late in this meeting, through inquiring whether “the Redevelopment Agency is overstretched,” by its pursuit of such a project, alluding to the potential for its funds to become soaked-up in quest of building a parking-structure to secure local retention of court facilities.
Davies responded by asserting that: “We do have money [already] committed” to this purpose (relevant consultant services); so, “we haven’t overstretched the redevelopment fund.”
Also, as mentioned by Davies, the city is submitting grant applications, attempting to secure the nature of funding relevant to production of a parking-structure essential to maintaining Woodland as the Yolo County Seat.
Earlier in this meeting, Davies had also addressed such concerns by saying: “If you don’t venture a little bit, you can’t reach [beneficial opportunities], and that’s what redevelopment is for. It’s for this [particular] area, which is very narrow,” continuing with a brief explanation about benefits of “enlarging” the city’s Redevelopment Zone, to include the county fairgrounds and additional territory along both Main and East Streets.
“Dollars follow good ideas,” declared Davies, in the process of remarking about the need — “to build a vision with stability in the downtown” — and affirming his belief that: “The money will be available — sooner or later — to make it happen.”
“We’ll not spend this money lightly,” maintained Davies, while expressing his confidence about relevant fiscal accountability. “But to create something that is visually appealing, you do have to spend some money.”