By 2013, Yolo County should have a huge new, multi-story, 16 courtroom, comprehensively facilitated courthouse; but left unresolved — its specific location within the eastern side of downtown Woodland.

Prior plans to use as a part of it: the block bounded by Court, North, Third and Fourth Streets — the old county jail — now the Public Defenders Office and courtroom space, with facilities for detention of inmates during court appearances across Third Street at the courthouse — plus key parking (~150 spaces) for the existing courthouse — have apparently been axed, because of inabilities to resolve relocation of those uses during construction of the new courthouse and its analogous facilities.

City staff has been swiftly scouring the eastern portion of downtown — alongside closed-session negotiation meetings with city council — cataloguing and coalescing available parcels, attempting to identify a feasible footprint for the new 160,000 square foot courthouse facility — plus enough space to park nearly 500 vehicles.

If this parking was installed within conventional, surface lots: five acres — two full city blocks within Woodland’s downtown area — adjacent to the new courthouse facilities would become engulfed in asphalt.

___  Redevelopment Agency Partnership Essential  ___

Woodland Redevelopment Agency (WRDA) Manager, Cynthia Shallit, indicates that — “the state budget allocated funds for parking, but its allocation is based on what they think it would cost to provide sufficient surface parking for the courts.

“The City would not want such a large area of space in the heart of downtown just paved over; we would prefer to have that land used for higher density development.”

The pivotal reason that WRDA must now become involved is that apparently, the state doesn’t specifically recognize potential contingencies for parking garages within its process of project and budgetary purview — only “surface parking.”

Either that, or Yolo County got an incomplete package of plans, during legislative consideration of what is deemed a “priority project” — “one of the top four” — such projects for the state (because current courthouse conditions are near the — bottom — of overall quality – statewide).

Shallit also identifies — another major hurdle — in that: “it is also unlikely that much land could be found downtown, so the courts facility would have to locate on the outskirts of town or in another community.”

Thus, it appears impossible for the state to operate in a way which preserves the county courthouse within downtown Woodland (the county seat) — without basic help from WRDA.

___  Parking Garage Structure Appears Inevitable  ___

That’s where, having long been a general goal, in previous downtown planning attached to development of a multiplex cinema — the concept of creating Woodland’s initial, multi-level parking garage suddenly gains ineluctable traction and inertia.

The logic is: (a) the new courthouse must be located in downtown Woodland, (b) Woodland will avoid losing the courthouse or winning an asphalt sea for its downtown area — by partnering with the state in construction of a multi-level parking garage with a minimal footprint and perhaps beneficial orientation toward joint (public-private) uses within downtown redevelopment.

It’s truly a case of transforming a potentially devastating feasibility dilemma into a classic redevelopment opportunity.

Such convergence of uses is a basic policy goal of Woodland’s Downtown Specific Plan (DSP):  “The City shall pursue development of a multi-story parking structure that supports parking for Downtown employment and shopping during the day and entertainment uses at night. The City shall encourage retail frontages on the ground floor of new parking structures.” (DSP, Policies and Standards.)

The DSP specifically includes such a project: “Cinema Square Parking Structure,” offering “parking for [a] new cinema complex as well as neighboring businesses / offices, [plus] first floor [ ] commercial space.”

This potential project is timed for completion by 2012, and is located on the southern side of Court Street, between Third and Fifth Streets (closing Fourth Street), adjacent to a proposed cinema complex on the Main Street side of these blocks.

Paul Petrovich owns the old Electric Garage site, now the Hoblit automobile dealership, and has a contract with a cinema developer for purposes of constructing such a project. (Please see further details, below.)

Recent municipal documents indicate accommodation of 30,000 sq. ft. of retail space around the periphery of the ground floor of the proposed parking garage.

___  Role of WRDA  ___

Shallit describes that, “the role of the Redevelopment Agency in the courts project is: to acquire land, find other financing and oversee the construction of the [potential parking] garage.”

Of course, courthouse facilities and related parking are a snug package; so in essence, despite documentary statements regarding an independent state process for selecting the actual courthouse site, WRDA is likely to be closely cooperating with the state in assembling parcels of land that are reasonably optimum for this entire project.

WRDA’s related Parking Needs Study (please see details, below) is an essential policymaking hinge on which this proposed parking garage swings, and will preface its reception by the city council (WRDA board).

“Because Woodland is willing to help find a site and build a parking structure, parking will consume less land and the new courts facility can be located in our downtown core,” explains Shallit, adding that, “it is quite an accomplishment for Woodland to be able to attract the new court building here.”

Woodland City Manager Mark Deven explains that: “the City Council / Redevelopment Agency Board is 100% supportive of this project since it will stimulate redevelopment, economic development and reinvestment in downtown Woodland.

“This project has been in process for over nine years and downtown business / property owners are supportive.”

Indeed, it’s inherent to vitality and growth within the downtown / redevelopment area — more than any other single factor. According to official statistics more than 380,000 persons visited local courthouse facilities during 2008 — perhaps the largest generator of public activity within Woodland’s downtown.

___  Reimbursement of WRDA Funding Appears Likely  ___

“The amount [of money] the state has set aside for (surface) parking acquisition is about $8 million, which they can use to reimburse us for acquisition and construction,” Shallit continues.

$5 million of redevelopment funds (most of the agency’s recent $6 million bond) have been budgeted in 2010, for land acquisition, contract services and other costs related to this project.

“It may be that [WRDA] will get a significant portion of its money back, once it receives the [$8 million] state allocation for parking acquisition,” says Shallit.

“[WRDA] recently received $125,000 in supportive, preliminary funding for this project from the federal Economic Development Administration,” adds Shallit — who also intends to pursue a $3 – $5 million construction grant from this agency and will be attempting to secure an additional loan / bond from the state Infrastructure Bank, “to pay for the rest of it.”

Reimbursement thus seems especially likely — because the proposed parking garage will cost only about $7 million ($20,000 per space in a 350 space garage).

Even factoring in the land cost (uncertain at this time), it seems there is ample funding available for this project — from state and federal sources — inclining matters toward substantial WRDA reimbursement.

Shallit indicates that no General Fund money is being used for this project.

The state may actually save a lot of money — with WRDA arranging its courthouse parking component — while the reimbursed city preserves this fundamental facility in its downtown area and greatly benefits from consequential dynamics of huge new development.

An initial timeline of WRDA “milestones” for this process has already been established (please see details, below).

___  Parking Garage Project Obtains WRDA Goals  ___

Shallit emphasizes that: “one of the primary goals of the Redevelopment Agency is to encourage development in the Redevelopment Area, which is primarily the downtown. It can do this by providing parking that can be used by other businesses that wish to locate downtown.”

Plus, if sufficient parking for courthouse facilities undergoes an easterly shift, onto presently under-used land, this movement would tend to enhance parking availability within the downtown core, where overflow courthouse use now ties up some parking.

“Also, by encouraging this kind of new development, especially right on Main Street, it brings new vitality and energy to downtown and attracts further investment. We need new development of all types in downtown Woodland.”

“It is very common,” describes Shallit, “for redevelopment agencies to join with many types of public as well as private entities to complete projects. These partnerships help leverage funds and can make projects happen that normally would not be feasible.”

“In this case,” relates Shallit, “the courts project will bring $160 million dollars to Woodland. It will stimulate job creation, new business development and re-energize downtown.

“At a time when Woodland’s Redevelopment Area is suffering from disinvestment and neglect, bringing in this large project is a major success.

“In general, the purpose of redevelopment is to remove blight by stimulating development,” Shallit indicates, “which naturally means that redevelopment funds are meant to be used on construction projects, whether that means public infrastructure improvements or private development, where development does not happen with the private sector alone.”

Or — in this case — with the state acting alone.

___  New Parking Needs Study Now Underway  ___

WRDA, in order to best integrate this huge project within overall plans for downtown redevelopment — has requested proposals from firms qualified to prepare parking needs studies, and recently hired a consultant (Fehr & Peers of Sacramento, for $20,000) to accomplish a comprehensive analysis of existing and future parking supply and demand along the Main Street corridor, within the Downtown Specific Plan (DSP).

“Key assignments for the consultant,” announces the formal Request for Proposals of WRDA, “include: preparing an inventory of existing parking resources (on-street parking and off-street parking lots); putting together parking demand analyses for the Woodland Courthouse Project and a multiplex theater, as well as [  ] evaluation of “trigger points” for the need to construct new parking facilities including one or more parking structures; provide[ ] recommendations on general locations for future parking facilities within the [DSP]”

A related aspect of these analyses will be the factor of Woodland’s adoption in 2008 of a resolution establishing an in-lieu parking fee and a parking district boundary.

According to Shallit, this Parking Needs Study is presently underway and should be completed during August.

A public meeting / workshop was recently held, combined with a meeting of the Woodland Downtowners, to elicit comments from interested parties on this project — which will thereafter be incorporated into a final report.

The consultant (Fehr & Peers) will present this final report to the Woodland Planning Commission and City Council / Redevelopment Board and respond to questions in September.

___  Major Projects for Parking Study Include Multiplex Theater(s)  ___

Major future projects to be analyzed in terms of their parking impacts are: the new courthouse, the City Center Lofts project and a multiplex theater with 10 to 14 movie screens (1,200 seats).

The only multiplex cinema proposals which are currently budgeted by WRDA are those located within the eastern part of downtown (the old Electric Garage on the northern side of Main between Third and Fourth Streets, now the Hoblit auto dealership, which property is owned by Paul Petrovich — and a recent proposal on the southern side of Main between Fifth and Sixth Streets, beside its other building, by Wiseman & Assoc.).

The 2009-10 WRDA budget projects annual receipt of property tax increment beginning in 2011 ($48,000, gradually increasing to about $56,000 in 2019), related to a — “multi-plex theater” —  indicating basic agency planning for completion of such a project within the next 18 months.

A goal of land use and development in the DSP is : “multi-screen cinema and plaza at site of existing auto dealer on Main Street,” directly alongside the goal of: “a multi-story parking structure with ground floor retail / food court use.”

How this goal converges with, or separates from, the imperative for best serving the site location of the new courthouse — is an open question.

Shallit has explicitly denied any reliance upon a cinema proposal by this project; while, retaining the courthouse is its “driving force,” according to related city staff.

___  Petrovich Challenged by Historical-Preservation Advocate  ___

Quite interestingly — the (private contract) agreement that Paul Petrovich has had with a regional cinema developer — CinemaWest, which owns and operates a large string of multiplex theaters throughout Northern California, some involving restorations and renovations of historic, art-deco movie-houses, such as Woodland’s State Theater (vintage: 1937) on Main near Walnut Street — will expire in September.

Noted Woodland historical-preservation advocate and author, David Wilkinson, is presently engaged in a campaign to persuade CinemaWest — to not renew its agreement about the Hoblit site with Paul Petrovich — and rather to approach Richard Mann, owner of the State Theater, about prospects for immediately redeveloping this historical Woodland landmark.

Wilkinson indicates that CinemaWest — “approached Mann several years ago about purchasing the State Theater — before the Petrovich deal — but was discouraged by city parking requirements.”

“CinemaWest has a good track record of restoring historic theaters, similar to the State (in Fortuna and Willits, for example) — and adding screens to create a hybrid multiplex involving new and old buildings,” describes Wilkinson, “which I think is exactly what needs to be done with the State.”

“There is vacant land on either side of the State to allow for expansion and parking,” observes Wilkinson. “The [WRDA] could assist in negotiating the purchase of these parcels. Synergy with the City Lofts project across the street would be tremendous. The State Theater would further enhance Woodland as the “Valley Jewel” with top-notch historic venues that are unique to Woodland

“It’s too bad the multiplex idea got linked to the courthouse expansion, since it has resulted in sweeping the State Theater restoration under the rug — which is puzzling and unfair for a city like Woodland that has historic resources second to none.

“I think it is shortsighted. Unfortunately, the city is reactionary when it comes to redevelopment. They need to proactively go out and recruit a developer (like CinemaWest) for a State Theater – multiplex combo and offer incentives to make the deal happen and be creative with parking requirements. They haven’t even attempted to do this.”

Wilkinson is thus determined to challenge Petrovich’s ability to retain CinemaWest; and rather — to swing this prestigious multiplex developer toward advancing restoration and expansion of the State Theater, located at the western “primary gateway” (DSP) to Woodland’s downtown area.

This challenge, if successful, would have an impact of uncertain dimensions — including upon the incipient Parking Needs Study — by forcing Petrovich to find another multiplex developer — or perhaps even to abandon this (Hoblit sited) multiplex project — because of such arising competition from CinemaWest at the State Theater site.

Would a cinema complex proposed by Wiseman and Assoc., along the southern side of Main Street, across from Freeman Park, survive a decision by CinemaWest to wrap a new multiplex around a fully restored State Theater?

Will Woodland’s long-anticipated cinema renaissance suddenly shift from east-downtown to west-downtown?

David Wilkinson is now working on it.

___  Uncertain Cinema Scenario Affects Parking Analyses  ___

As well as potentially altering considerations of specific convergences of use — between the cinema complex and new courthouse — renewal of CinemaWest’s original interest in purchasing, restoring and expanding the State Theater would significantly affect the comprehensive assessment of downtown parking demand.

During the recent public gathering noted above, to elicit comments on this subject, consultant Fehr & Peers principal, Bob Grandy, emphasized that the desired result is a project that “has parking for shared use, a good mix of uses — an efficient parking facility.”

Grandy described that the study “will look at [cinema complex proposals], as affecting parking in the downtown,” as it is a “major project.”

“Different demand areas” exist, however — he indicates — between east and west downtown. Thus, a shift of focus for this multiplex cinema to the State Theater, across Main Street from the new City Center Lofts project — which is intended to have “a strong retail component” — would have a salient impact on eventual, overall parking demand.

As presently designed, the City Center Lofts project fails to fully achieve city parking requirements — and would be subject to some in-lieu fees for final approval.

Another aspect of existing (approved) planning process for this project is financial support for renovation of the State Theater — creating the prospect of a beneficial convergence of support between them regarding parking requirements.

Interviewed about this unsettled “major-project” element of the ongoing Parking Needs Study, subsequent to the recent public gathering, Grandy indicated that this somewhat fluid — east / west — cinema-complex situation would receive due consideration as an option / factor, being “incorporated” within the final edition of the Study.

___  Petrovich Has Already Undermined Key Feature of DSP  ___

Petrovich has so far had an objectively deleterious influence on implementation of Woodland’s DSP, by seemingly attempting to satisfy his mitigation obligations related to peripheral retail development within his Gateway project, through sitting a conventional (one-story, cookie-cutter) Rite Aid store at the northwestern corner of East and Main Streets.

DSP policy that: “the CIty shall continue to support mixed-use developments [ ] with a similar style and scale of the historic rice mill building,” at the northwestern corner of East and Main Streets — was (officially) ignored by the City — in relation to Petrovich’s plans for a Rite Aid store.

Public speculation exists about the ability of Woodland’s City Council to successfully manage Petrovich’s development projects.

According to a long-time observer of city hall:  Petrovich was the pivotal influence in the 2004-election replacement of (now) Woodland Vice-mayor Art Pimentel, for (now returned) Councilmember Martie Dote — who tended to (too) carefully scrutinize Petrovich’s various development plans.

Rumors are circulating about Petrovich selling the un-built Rite Aid site on Main and East Streets to Wiseman and Associates, who own the multi-story building directly across Main Street.

City Manager Deven has recently stated, however, that as far as he knows, the project remains on track — just delayed.

This intersection is the eastern “primary gateway” to the downtown area, intended in conjunction with the western “primary gateway” at Main and Walnut Streets, “to reinforce a strong community identity for the Downtown,” exclaims the DSP.

“[T]he City shall develop enhanced entrances (gateways) on both ends of Downtown Main Street,” according to the DSP.

Because of abridgement of the DSP, a regular Rite Aid store is still scheduled — despite rumors of a change of ownership / inability of Petrovich to obtain funding to build this second Rite Aid store in town — to become one pillar of “community identity” for downtown Woodland’s eastern ‘primary gateway.”

Another such pillar of — “community identity” — is the State Theater.

Yolo Sun will soon present a detailed news report on the topic of David Wilkinson’s campaign to transfer the interest and participation of CinemaWest toward the purpose of well-fulfilling the municipal promise of gateways creating — as expressed by the DSP: “a strong community identity for the Downtown.”

___  Timeline of Courthouse Parking Garage Project  ___

An initial timeline for WRDA’s courthouse parking garage project has been set:

Identification of preferred sites by Redevelopment Agency  —  July 16. 2009

Review by State Public Works Board  —  August 16, 2009

Environmental Review  —  March 2010

Acquisition of Sites  —  March 2010

Completion of Design and Engineering Plans  —  April 2010

Completion of Parking Garage Construction  —  April 2011

Completion of Courthouse Construction — August 2013