Is Menlo Park's downtown plan doomed to failure?
Original post made by News Guy, another community, on Nov 22, 2009
Couperus <firstname.lastname@example.org> | Sat, Nov 21, 2009 at 3:13 PM To: email@example.com
This week attention in Menlo Park has been focused on the Bohannon development and nothing of significance is occurring with respect to the "Visioning Plan," which is however progressing towards an expected mid-March completion for review by the City Council.
However, two articles did appear in the press this week, which show that Menlo Park is not alone in venturing into troubled waters. One was in The Examiner, the other in The Wall Street Journal. Both are revealing and should give Menlo Park cause for concern.
The Examiner story, entitled "Redwood City Struggling with Rebuilding Downtown", is about Redwood City's 50 million-dollar downtown revitalization project, which has produced a vibrant night life - but it has come at the cost of a withering downtown retail district with a high vacancy rate. (This article states 11.8% but other sources report over 20%.)
Beautiful but empty buildings line Broadway, where there is only one retail business left - Bob's Courthouse Coffee Shop. Bob has suffered a 50% drop in business over the past two years. "There's nothing to come down here for except to eat. There's no retail. The parking is atrocious," he said.
Yet, two parking garages were part of the revitalization and now the City is coping with a million dollar a year loss from lower than expected parking fees. "Redwood City's downtown plan, adopted in May 2007, encompasses a three-block radius of the historic courthouse. It outlined the city's need to bring in downtown housing, concentrate retail uses on Broadway and near Caltrain, and increase the area's walkability."
Does this sound familiar? Here's the link to the article: Web Link
The Wall Street Journal features an article entitled "Market Mimics Falter - San Francisco Ferry Building Proves a Tough Model to Follow."
The gist of the article is that Ferry Plaza is an anomaly - that attempts to replicate it in other localities are just not working. Cities like Oakland, Napa and Santa Rosa have made marketplaces, like Ferry Plaza, the centerpiece of their redevelopment efforts. None have fulfilled the promise.
In fact, according to this article, "There is little evidence the marketplace concept can turn a location into a destination. People have convinced themselves that it will work without really understanding why," said Dena Belzer, president of Strategic Economics, an urban consulting firm.
Again, Menlo Park is not alone in planning for one of these in its downtown. Check out the following link to find out what has happened in the cities where marketplaces are part of redevelopment. And, then ask yourself if Menlo Park, a relatively small city of some 30,000 residents could successfully replicate the Ferry Plaza that serves a city of over 809,000 residents and is a tourist destination. Web Link
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